25th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME A
In the parable of the workers in the vineyard, we see the sovereign generosity of God. In our first impression we see the landowner (God) as somewhat unreasonable and unjust for a number of reasons: 1) Why would he hire workers four more times? 2) Why would he hire late workers who could only give him so little? 3) There was something wrong in the mode of payment: those who came last got their pay first and those who had been working the whole day were given the last. 4) Why would he give everybody the same pay? Justice demands that the first workers will have more because they worked longer hours than those who worked later in the day. Justice also demands that the first workers should be paid first and the late workers last. This is the way we think; this is the way we expect justice should be served. But God’s justice is beyond our expectation and understanding. In the parable we see the sovereignty of God: “Am I not free to do what I wish with that which belongs to me?” We also see the super-generosity of God: “Are you envious because I am generous?”
The prophet Isaiah in the first reading holds the key in understanding the parable: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways.” So how do we understand the parable in the context of our faith journey?
The first workers hired by God were the Israelites and they were promised a “wage” which was salvation. The consequent workers were the Gentiles, the prostitutes, the sinners and the outcast and eventually us. They have also been called by the landowner at a later time in fact in different hours of the day to work in the vineyard. The Jews expected that they would be favored more than anybody else simply because they were the People of God. But because they rejected the gift of salvation, it was offered to the Gentiles and sinners who accepted it, thus: the first will be last and the last will be first.
The parable shows that God has always exceeded the level of simple distributive justice. His sense of justice and charity can never be outdone and always overflows beyond the limits of our constricted understanding of equality and fairness.
As we translate the parable into our time we can never demand from God to reward us because we think we are good, holy and deserving. This becomes more real when bad things happen to good people: “Why did God allow this tragedy to happen to me when I am good and faithful to him?” In the midst of pain and suffering, some would say “God is unfair! I do not deserve this.”
In our own workplace justice demands that we should fight for our right, that we should be rewarded with the right compensation commensurate to our work done. But this is not so with the first workers who agreed on a day’s wage given by the landowner. They were not happy because they expected more and they became embittered when they looked at others who were given the same pay with them.
One of the cardinal sins is envy. When we are envious of others our hearts are poisoned: we are not happy and contented with what we have even if we have more than enough and we feel sad when others possess what we do not have or when they possess more than what we have. When it happens, our life becomes miserable just like the early workers in the parable.
Let us rejoice in our own giftedness and equally rejoice in the giftedness of others. Our gifts are the manifestations of God’s super-generosity which challenge us to become generous as well in giving ourselves as gifts to others.