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…” (Mt 20:1).
At dawn, nine, noon, three, and five o’clock the landowner hired day laborers to go into the field to bring in the harvest. Many, familiar with this parable, find themselves a bit bemused, bewildered, or even angry at the ending when they read or hear that the landowner had his foreman pay everyone the same pay. The immediate cry is, “That is not fair!” Those, more often than not, who respond this way are focused on the hired hands who started at dawn, worked all day, and were paid the same as the laborers who started at five o’clock.
The workers who started at dawn agreed to a certain wage and the owner paid that agreed amount. The landowner explained, “to one of them in reply, ‘My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage” (Mt 20:13)? What is missed, if someone is feeling as perplexed as were some of the dawn laborers, is the generosity of the landowner.
We see this similar scene of generosity given and played out in some of Jesus’ other parables. The older son who refused to listen to his father’s invitation to come in to share in the celebration of the feast when his wayward brother had been lost but now was found (Lk 15:11-32); the man who was forgiven his entire debt from the king and then when he had the same opportunity to forgive one who owed him, did not (Mt. 23-35), and in the parable of the Good Samaritan the priest and Pharisee left the man on the side of the road yet the Samaritan, the despised one, was the one to provide aid (Lk 10:25-37). Each of these parables represents the generosity and mercy of God.
There is a reason Jesus shared the parable of the workers in the vineyard after warning about the dangers of riches. Jesus is inviting the disciples and us to be generous with our time, talent, and treasure. He is also calling us out of our group think or tribal mentality. He is showing us that God’s invitation is for all and he is free to bestow his mercy, grace, and forgiveness on those for whom he chooses, whether we approve or not. Ideally, he seeks to bestow his mercy on others through us.
Are we aware of how generous and merciful God has been with us? If not, may we give some thought to the blessings we do have in our life, instead of focusing on what we do not have, otherwise, we will envy the generosity he shows others. Do we fall into the camp of the laborers who worked all day for their fair share but were begrudging those who received the same pay for an hour’s work, the older brother unwilling to be grateful for the return of his brother, the servant unwilling to show mercy to a debtor, and/or the priest and Pharisee that took the long way around the wounded man on the Jericho Road? Or will we rejoice today in the glory our Father shines upon us, seek opportunities to share our joy, fruit, and gifts with others, and be thankful when God bestows his generosity and grace upon others, even at the eleventh hour?