At dawn, nine, noon, three, and five o’clock the landowner hired day laborers to go into the field to work and bring in the harvest. Many familiar with this parable may side with those working since dawn and may also grumble, 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'” (Mt 20:11-12). Instead of being grateful for the wages they received and had agreed upon before the job began, those grumbling focused on what they perceived as an unfair allocation of payment. The landowner attempted to clarify with one of the obstinate ones saying, “My friend, I am not cheating you” (Mt 20:13).
In essence, the landowner sought to draw this laborer from his self-centered view to the broader context and reality of the situation. Each of the laborers in the parable were day laborers, they did not have a regular stable salary. They worked and received wages and provided for their family only when someone gave them an opportunity. It wasn’t that the landowner was favoring the last over the first, he was just being generous with the opportunity to provide work and pay for those who answered yes to his invitation. And in the end, he asked “am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous” (Mt 20:15)?
Jesus presented the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Mt 20:1-16) as he did with the parable of the prodigal son (Lk 11:15-32) to show his listeners and us the generosity of God’s love and mercy. We must resist the temptation to be envious and begrudge those, who having less, have received from God what is their due. Instead, we who have been blessed, need to be aware of the generosity God has bestowed upon us, to be thankful for his blessings, and so collaborate with God by sharing with others who are less fortunate than ourselves, for “the harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few” (Lk 10:2).
We have been invited to work for the Landowner in his vineyard. We are to be about his work building and restoring relationships and not worrying about seeking reward. Comparing what we have to what others have will only end in frustration and separation, for as the prophet Isaiah said, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts” (Isaiah 55: 8-10). The just wage for our work is God’s mercy and we are not to refuse or be jealous of anyone else receiving his mercy. Instead of judging God’s forgiveness and mercy, we are to seek to emulate it!
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