WORKERS IN THE VINEYARD
Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J
Table of Contents
“When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’ When those who had started about five o’clock came each received the usual daily wage. So when the first came they thought that they would receive more but each of them also got the usual wage. And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner saying, ‘These last ones worked only one hour and you have made them equal to us who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’ He said to one of them in reply, ‘My friend I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous? Thus the last will be first and the first will be last.’” (Matt. 20:1-16)
Doesn’t that complaint sound familiar? Isn’t that the complaint of the brother of the prodigal son? When his brother came home, after squandering his inheritance, the father kills the fatted calf, and calls in the neighbors to celebrate he refuses to go into the house. The father has to come out. And when he does the son complains, “All of these years I have been with you, whatever you asked of me, I did, not once did you give me a calf to celebrate with my friends. And here this brother of mine, goes off, squanders his inheritance on harlots and you kill the fatted calf, call in the neighbors and celebrate.”
Doesn’t that complaint sound familiar also to our own complaint when we complain because God is generous with others? Are we envious because God is generous?
The parable is set in the kingdom of this world but it is about the kingdom of God. And it highlights the difference between those kingdoms. The kingdom of this world is at best concerned with justice while the kingdom of God is concerned with love. And there is a big difference between justice and love. Justice is that virtue which makes us give to others what they have a right to. Justice is the substratum of love. Love begins where justice ends. Once we have fulfilled the demands of justice then we begin to speak about love. The language of love is generosity.
The parable is really not about the workmen but about the owner of the vineyard. For him it is not a question of justice but love. If the owner would give the workers only what they have a right to, what they deserve, those who came in at the last hour would get only an hour’s pay. An hour’s pay would not be enough for his family, and the children will go hungry. So he generously gives them a full day’s pay. Not a minimum wage but a living wage.
The point of the parable, and the point of the whole of the Gospel, is that the grace of God, is exactly that, it is gratuitous. No one can earn it. And God is generous beyond our fondest expectations. Take for instance the good thief on the cross. His whole life was one of crime for which he was being justly punished. The kingdom of this world was giving him justice. But at the last moment of his life he turned to Jesus and pleaded, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And the Lord assures him, “Amen I say to you this very day you will be with me in paradise.”
Like the workmen in the parable who worked all day we often complain, “It’s not fair.” It seems like the Lord is more generous to sinners than he is to the righteous. Yes he is. He came not for the just but for the sinner. After all, we are all sinners, actually in the past, potentially in the future and always carrying this treasure in a very fragile vessel. There is only one “Immaculate Exception.” Mary is “Our tainted natures’ solitary boast.” Thank God we do not get what we truly deserve!
the course of justice none of us would see salvation. We pray for mercy
and that same prayer doth teach us all to render the deeds of mercy.”
|© 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J. all rights reserved|