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The workers in the vineyard

Gospel Reading: Mt 20:1-16
Jesus told his disciples this parable: “The Kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. Going out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.’

So they went off. And he went out again around noon, and around three o’clock, and did likewise. Going out about five o’clock, he found others standing around, and said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’ When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, “Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’

When those who had started about five o’clock came, each received the usual daily wage. So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage. And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’

He said to one of them in reply, ‘My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?’ Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

In fairness
God has been accused of sleeping on the job many times over. People say, God does not answer prayers right away. God delays. Why does God allow evil things to happen? In the parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, the workers who showed up early accuse God for being unfair, because God treats the early birds and the latecomers equally, paying them the same amount of wages. God seems to condone indiscipline and sluggishness, when everyone should be up on their toes.

The evangelist Matthew writes the parable to defend God. God is God and has his way of doing things. God has his own measuring stick and way of reckoning time. God does not follow the human system of weights and measurements. God’s reward system depends on the generosity of his heart, not on our efforts or measuring devices. God computes according to the abundance of his heart. God has an infinite supply of love.

The Gospel story reminds us not to impose our terms on God. We should not make God act like a human being, in fairness to God. As the First Reading puts it, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord” (V 8). Our total well-being is God’s top priority. God encourages those who have strayed to return as soon as possible. God does not care whether we have ignored him for so long. God just wants us back. God does not discriminate against the late penitents, in fairness to them.

In the First Reading, Isaiah calls his compatriots to go back to God, to seek him, to turn to him for mercy. The prophet reminds his fellow exiled Jews in Babylon (586-539 BC) that God is merciful, generous in forgiveness, and fair to sinners. After a brief punishment, God will bring them back home.

As Catholics, we experience God’s forgiveness especially through the sacrament of Reconciliation. When we make a good confession, we are liberated from a lot of heavy burdens, from sin and guilt.

In the Second Reading, Paul in prison sees his end is near. This former persecutor of Christians says that he does not mind whether he dies or continues to live. Either is to his advantage. If he dies, he will be with Christ and receive his great reward. If he is allowed to go on living, he can continue his mission. Paul believes that he will go to heaven, not because of his accomplishments, like bringing people to Christ and building Christian communities, but because of the merits of the risen Lord. God has been fair to him.

God is fair to us. God does not sleep but is always on the lookout to welcome us who repent even at the last minute.

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SOURCE: “365 Days with the Lord,” ST PAULS, 7708 St. Paul Rd., SAV, Makati City (Phils.); Tel.: 895-9701; Fax 895-7328; E-mail: publishing@stpauls.ph; Website: http://www.stpauls.ph.