“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’
When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’
But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved.
“The kingdom of heaven is like….” Jesus often begins his stories with these words. He has captured his listener’s attention and proceeds to speak of daily life experiences not unfamiliar to his audience. So far, so good. Then comes the sting, the surprise ending which is meant to turn the listener’s (and our) way of thinking upside down. At the least, the ending is confusing, annoying, disturbing, perhaps eliciting a reaction of denial, even anger. The parables of Jesus are meant to make us uncomfortable, to shake us in our complacency, to challenge and to stretch us to think and act in new ways.
Today’s parable from Matthew’s Gospel does just that. The landowner’s distribution of the daily wage equally to all, regardless of the number of hours worked, seems downright unfair. I don’t like it! And his question, “Are you envious because I am generous?” I don’t like to think about that either! Yet, if I am honest, and upon prayerful reflection, I am grateful that God’s justice does not mean that we get what we deserve. God’s compassion, justice and mercy are so extravagant that they defy all of our expectations of what is reasonable, fair and just. God’s mind and God’s heart radiate pure unconditional love for all. Heaven to our ears! Remind us again, Jesus, “the kingdom of heaven is like….”
How might God be inviting me to be stretched in mind and heart today? How will I choose to react to his challenge?
—Mary McKeon is a retreat master and spiritual director at the Bellarmine Jesuit Retreat House, in Barrington, IL.
Ponder today these words from St. Ignatius Loyola: “God’s purpose in creating us is to draw forth from us a response of love and service here on earth, so that we may attain our goal of everlasting happiness with Him in heaven.” Amen.
—Mary McKeon, quoting St. Ignatius of LoyolaPlease share the Good Word with your friends!