With this parable, Jesus wants to open our hearts to the logic of the Father’s love which is free and generous.Fr. Dumlesi Tor
(Isa 55:6-9, Phil 1:20-24. 27, Matt 20:1-16)
On this Sunday the church invites us to reflect on the unimaginable ways and love of God. This love of God cannot be measured by any human standard. It is incalculable and even appears as foolish by human reckoning.
The parable in the gospel reading emphasizes a right attitude in service. It is important to note that there were actually two kinds of workers hired that day: those who wanted a contract and agreed to work for a penny a day, and those who had no contract and agreed to take whatever the owner thought was right. The first laborers that he hired insisted on a contract. This explains why the householder paid the workers as he did: He wanted those who were hired first (who insisted on a contract) to see how much he paid the workers who were hired later. It was one way the owner could show those workers how really generous he was.
Put yourself in the place of those workers who were hired first but paid last. They each expected to get a penny, because that was what they agreed to accept. But imagine their surprise when they saw the laborers who were hired last each receiving a penny! This meant their own wages should have been twelve pennies each! But the owner gave them one penny each. Of course, they complained! But they had no argument, because they had agreed to work for a penny. They received what they asked for. Had they trusted the goodness of the land owner, they would have received far more. But they insisted on a contract.
The lesson for us today is obvious. We should not serve Him because we want to receive an expected reward, and we should not insist on knowing what we will get. God is infinitely generous and gracious and will always give us better than we deserve. His action towards the last group of workers shows that he is not acting in accordance with strict justice, or economics. Rather he is motivated by love and generousity towards all that responds to his invitation.
Now we can understand the perils that were hidden in Peter’s question in Matt 19:27: “We have given up everything and followed you. What will there be for us”. For one thing, we must not “suppose” (Matt 20:10) that we will get something more if we really do not deserve it. It is possible to do the Father’s work and yet not do His will from the heart (Eph 6:6). If we serve Him only for the benefits (temporal and eternal), then we will miss the best blessings He has for us. We must trust Him unreservedly and believe that He will always give what is best.
There is the danger of pride. “What shall we have?” asked Peter. This parable warned him, “How do you know you will have anything?” Beware of overconfidence when it comes to the rewards God will give, for those first in their own eyes (and in the eyes of others) may end up last! Likewise, do not get discouraged; for those who consider themselves “unprofitable servants” may end up first. Beware of the danger of watching other workers and measuring yourself by them. “Judge nothing before the time,” Paul warns: “Do not make any judgment before the appointed time, until the Lord comes,” (1Cor 4:5). We see the worker and the work, but God sees the heart.
With this parable, Jesus wants to open our hearts to the logic of the Father’s love which is free and generous. It is about allowing oneself to be astonished and fascinated by the “thoughts” and the “ways” of God which, as the Prophet Isaiah recalls in the first reading, are not our thoughts and not our ways. Human thoughts are often marked by selfishness and personal advantages, and our narrow and contorted paths are not comparable to the wide and straight streets of the Lord. He uses mercy – do not forget this: He uses mercy, he forgives broadly, is filled with generosity and kindness which he pours forth on each of us. He opens for everyone the boundless territory of his love and his grace, which alone can give the human heart the fullness of joy.
Finally, we must beware of criticizing God and feeling that we have been left out. Had the early morning workers trusted the owner and not asked for an agreement, the owner would have given them much more. He was generous, but they would not trust him. They did not rejoice that others received more; instead, they were jealous and complained. The goodness of the owner did not lead them to repentance (Rom 2:4). It revealed the true character of their hearts: They were selfish! Whenever we find a complaining servant, we know he has not fully yielded to the master’s will.
What counts in God’s vineyard is not years of service, but diligence of the heart as a chosen one. All men, no matter when you come in, are equally precious to God. Therefore, God’s reward for all in His kingdom, is simply his grace that is extended to all those who responded faithfully to his divine invitation.
Peace be with you!
Fr Dumlesi Tor