Today we have another beautiful parable about the Kingdom of God. This parable strikingly brings out the very nature of God and how God the Father deals with us in His Kingdom. The owner of the vineyard went out at different hours of the day to hire workers in his vineyard agreeing to pay a denarius for their work. A denarius meant a day’s minimum wage just to support the family according to the system of the day. It was not an attractive payment at all. At the end of the day when the man settled his account with the workers he paid them what he had agreed a denarius- to all without any regard for the hours of work they had worked. This enraged the workers who toiled the whole day as those who worked for an hour also got the same amount as they got.
How could he treat all the workers in the same way as some worked the whole day and some put in only an hour of work? This is a judgment that we fail to understand, because it is the human way of looking at it. God’s ways are different from human ways and precisely that is what Jesus wants to bring out to our reflection. So the parable is not about fair labor laws and labor management but it is only about the nature of God, and about the nature of the generosity and compassion of God in His Kingdom. His compassion supersedes His justice. Prophet Isaiah says that the ways of God are different from human ways. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
The parable is a warning to the disciples:
(i) Jesus teaches his disciples not to claim any special honor or any special place because they are closely associated with him or because they are the first members of his Church. All the people, no matter when they come, are equally precious to God. Similarly, long-time Church members should expect no special preference over recent members.
(ii) As a definite warning to the Jews. As the chosen people of God, the Jews looked down upon the Gentiles. Jesus warns them that the Gentiles who put their faith in God will have the same reward a good Jew may expect. Matthew, by retelling this parable, probably wants to give the same warning to the members of his Judeo-Christian community who considered the Gentile Christians as second-class Christians.
(iii) As an explanation by Jesus of His love for the publicans and sinners. Through this parable, Jesus describes the loving concern, generosity and mercy of God his Father for all His children, which Jesus reflects in his life.
The figure of the Good Employer evokes the graciousness and solicitude of God who, in Jesus the Good Shepherd, seeks out the lost sheep. Indeed, God does not want that anyone be lost or without a place in his kingdom. The point of today’s parable is God’s abounding mercy. Each of us is the recipient of the kindness and generosity of God. The Parable of the Good Employer concludes with an enigmatic statement: “Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last”. This underlines Jesus’ promise that the disciples, now considered the last, will be the first in receiving the rewards of the kingdom.
The parable’s teaching on the grace of God: The parable suggests that we can’t work our way into heaven. We can never do enough good in this life to earn our everlasting reward. We must learn that we’re all in need of God’s grace and forgiveness. In God’s kingdom, we can be grateful that He chooses to be generous. What we really deserve for our sins is death. We learn also that in God’s service we have different tasks to perform. No matter how menial the task, however, we all get paid the same amount. In God’s eyes, we are all equal. At the end of the day, we are all paid the right amount. In the church, we’re all co-workers and hence we all receive exactly what is right, from a God who is notoriously generous and lavish.
The paradox of grace: What really bothers us in the parable is God’s equal rewarding of latecomers and newcomers. We are tempted to ask the question “Is it fair that we, the hard-working Christians, are going to be treated like these workers? Is the man who lives a life of sin but who converts on his deathbed going to get the same reward that we receive? The parable tells us that our heavenly reward is not something that we earn but rather a free gift. God has made His rewards available to all through faith in Christ Jesus. Is it fair that God gives his grace to all? Fair is the wrong word. God does not deal with us “fairly” and it is a good thing! We should be thankful God does not give us what we deserve. The word we are looking for is grace. The question should be “What is grace?” And the answer is, it is that “undeserved love” that God has shown us through the death and resurrection of His only Son Jesus Christ.
Saint Paul the Apostle is a privileged example of the laborer of the “last hour” who benefited from the abundant riches of God’s grace. A persecutor of Christian faith, he was converted and experienced the undeserved free bounty of God. Saint Paul is a model of a true response to divine love radically revealed in Jesus Christ. In today’s Second Reading (Phil 1:20c-24, 27a), the Apostle is writing to the Philippians from a prison in Ephesus around 56 A.D. Awaiting a possible death sentence, he reflects that for him both life and death take their meaning from Christ. Saint Paul asserts that with his whole being, he would bring honor to Christ, whether he live or die. Death for him is gain for he would relish the heavenly reward. To continue to live in this world, however, would mean a more fruitful labor for the Gospel. This would benefit more greatly the community of faith and encourage them to live a life worthy of the Gospel. Having been evangelized and brought under the power of the Gospel, they are to reflect in their life and their belonging to Christ.