September 24, 2017 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
It’s not fair.
That seems to be the common reaction to whenever we hear this Gospel story read.
- It doesn’t make any difference what you think or even your cultural background, people universally respond with, “this is it fair, this doesn’t make sense.”
- So why would Jesus tell a story like this.
- I suppose initially he did so to shatter the complacency of people’s hearts and attitudes.
- Obviously, as this parable is retold it seems to have the same effect.
Parable of the workers in the vineyard
In order to better understand this parable, we have to return to the first reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah.
- We have to look at what he writes at the end of the reading.
- The starting point is this quote, “for my thoughts are not your thoughts and neither are your ways my ways.”
- As we look more closely at this parable it’s important to keep that sentence in mind.
Before we proceed, however, we need some background information.
- In antiquity, for the average person, there was no regular employment.
- Essentially, the way things worked is that most people were what you would call day laborers.
- They worked for the day, and then would be paid the day’s wage at the end of the day.
- It was called denarius.
- Many times, there wasn’t any kind of consistency. There was no guarantee that a person would be chosen to work for the day.
- If a person did not work that day, there be no income and that could mean that the family would not eat the next day.
- The way this worked was people would go stand at the marketplace in the center of the village and employers would come by and hire them for the day.
- That’s the background for today’s gospel.
So, it’s harvest time and the vine owner needs workers to harvest his vineyard.
- He goes to the Town square early in the morning around 6 AM and hires everyone he can find.
- He shakes their hand, and promises them a denarius.
- In doubt, they were elated at being hired.
- Later, he returns to the village to pick up some supplis and finds that there are still men loitering around, so he invites them to come to the Vineyard and hires them as well.
- As you can imagine in late August or early September the day is getting hotter and hotter.
- Finally, the owner of the Vineyard needs to pick up a few more things at the end of the day.
- It’s around 5:00 PM. He discovers that there are still some men standing around the marketplace who have not yet been hired.
- Imagine how desperate these men must have been. Perhaps they’ve been waiting most of the day to be hired and no one hired them.
- There would be no wages for that day to feed their family.
- The owner of the Vineyard hires them as well.
Now we come to the attention-grabbing part of the story.
- The day is over and the workers form a line.
- The owner of the Vineyard announces, “let’s pay the ones who came last first.”
- So, he hands them the denarius or the day’s wage.
- Can you imagine the amazement and a delight that must’ve been on their faces?
- Each of them receive the same amount of money.
- Of course, those who worked for 12 hours expect to be paid more. It seems only fair.
- However, the owner of the vineyard pays them the agreed upon daily wage.
- You can imagine how angry they must have been. So, one of them speaks up, “what gives here? We worked the whole day in the hot sun and these guys worked only one hour and we receive the same amount of pay? That isn’t fair.”
- The owner of the Vineyard’s response is interesting and it gives us insight to the purpose of the parable.
- He reminds them that he owns the Vineyard and that as the owner he promised them the daily wage and he did what he promised.
- He talks not about justice but generosity.
- Justice would demand that they got what they deserved.
- Generosity on the other hand, is a gift that one does not deserve.
- That the last group of workers received a gift, not a salary.
- It was the generosity that overflowed from a generous heart.
- They did not deserve a whole day’s wage for one hour’s worth of work. It was a gift.
WHAT DID JESUS MEAN.
Obviously is not a parable about employee – employer relations.
- Why would Jesus tell this parable anyway if it leaves itself up for such a great misinterpretation?
- Jesus tells his disciples something about God and their expectation of him. The parable is told to shatter all of the expectations that they have of God.
Strangely enough if you look at the parable, the emphasis is not so much on the Vineyard as it is on the workers.
- Time and time again the owner of the Vineyard comes and solicits more workers to come into the Vineyard.
- His concern is not so much the harvesting of the land, as it is to give employment to those who are in need.
- As a result, he returns over and over again to the marketplace to locate more workers.
- No doubt he understood the nature of day labor work.
- Perhaps he realized that if these men did not receive a daily wage it would impact their ability to provide for their families.
- In Jesus is mind, that is the motivation for him to return over and over again to the marketplace.
Obviously the land owner in the story stands for God. The motivation of the landowner as it is for God is goodness and generosity.
- The market place in the story stands for the world while the vineyard stands for God’s kingdom.
- Each of us is called to come and work in the kingdom.
- The obvious reward is life eternal.
- The reward is the same for all those who work in the vineyard of the Lord. It is the unmerited undeserved gift of God’s mercy.
- The father gives from a generous heart life eternal.
As you look at the story, ask yourself this question: “which group of workers would you like to be in?”
- Without a doubt, I can answer that easily. I would want to be in the group of workers who were hired at 5 PM in the afternoon, worked one hour, and received a full day’s wage.
- Wouldn’t you as well?
- The good news of the story is precisely this: Jesus wants us to know that you and I are in the last group of workers.
- We experience the goodness and generosity of which is totally undeserved. God is most generous with us.
Here’s the gospel challenge for this week.
- This week give yourself a little time. Find a quiet place and do the best you can to remove distractions.
- Ask Jesus to be with you.
- Once you find this quiet time, Recall the gospel that we have for today.
- Think about the various groups and remember Jesus has invited us and we belong in the last group.
- We are the fortunate ones who were called at 5 PM and worked only one hour in the hot sun and God has given us the gift of a full day’s pay.
- It isn’t something that we earned.
- It is a gift. Now after you have thought about that, see if you can come up with one gift that God has given you in the generosity of his heart.
- It should be something that you don’t deserve, but something that God has given you out of the goodness of his being.
- Maybe, as you reflect upon your family, that’s the undeserved gift that God has given you.
- Maybe it’s your job. Perhaps you are one of those fortunate people who do exactly what you enjoy doing. Your Job gives you joy and fulfillment. Is that kind of job that you look forward to every single day.
- Maybe it’s just a joyful spirit.
Whatever it is, be aware of God’s generosity and fill your heart with gratitude
Today we have a strange Gospel parable.
- However, at the heart of that gospel and indeed at the center of all history is this one thought…
“my thoughts are not your thoughts; your ways are not my ways.”