25th Week in Ord. Time, Sunday – 20th September 2020 — Gospel: Mt 20,1-16
Jesus’ parable of the employer who hires workers at different times of the day and yet gives to each a full day’s payment may seem unfair. However the parable doesn’t teach about economic justice. The employer did not cheat anyone of a full day’s pay. He was just more generous with those who came to work later in the day because no one had hired them earlier. The issue that gets our attention is the question that the landowner/employer asks of those who are standing idle until the last hour. He asks why they haven’t been working. They simply respond, “Because no one has hired us.” It is not that they haven’t been willing to work, but they have not been given the opportunity to work. What an unfair thing? It is with these people that the grumbling workers, the last in line to receive their wages, those who worked a 12-hour day in the scorching sun, wanting to compare. What an unequal comparison?
How different is the employer/leader in this parable? He wants to give opportunity for everyone who doesn’t have work. In fact, each of the workers is dependent upon the landowner, because each of them rolled out of bed that morning unemployed. They owed everything to the vineyard owner who sought them out and gave them work, who offered them a livelihood and a purpose. What is remarkable about the landowner is that he keeps going back to the marketplace throughout the day to provide opportunity for those who are standing idle. How easily we forget that, and begin to think that somehow we deserve more than the others.
In another sense, certainly God cares about fairness in our human economy and market places. God calls us to work for justice, to provide opportunity for others so that all can receive a livable wage and daily bread, so that all can have a roof over their heads. At the same time, God’s economy/salvation – the economy of the kingdom – goes way beyond fairness. There is nothing to be earned in God’s economy. There is only God’s generosity freely spent on us. It is appropriate to reflect Paul’s words here, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?” (1 Cor 4,7). By our uneven comparisons we so easily become resentful of God’s generosity to others.