OT XXV [A] Is 55:6-9; Phil 1:20c-24, 27a; Mt 20:1-16a
An old “Family Circus” comic strip shows the two boys Jeff and Billy squabbling over the size of the slices of pie their mom has placed before them. “They aren’t the same,” Jeff pouts. Mom tries again, evening-up the slices. Still Jeff is upset. “They still aren’t the same!” he whines. This time Mom uses a ruler and absolutely proves that both slices of pie are the exact same size. “But Mom,” Jeff complains, “I want mine to be just like Billy’s . . . only bigger!”
We all tend to think we deserve a bigger slice of the pie. From the time we are little children, we are taught that doing more is worth more. If a five year old gets a dollar for picking up their toys and clothes; If an eight year old gets five dollars for feeding the dog, emptying the garbage, and vacuuming the living room; Then a twelve year old should get considerably more for mowing the lawn, doing some laundry, watching younger siblings, and cleaning the garage.
Chores and allowances teach children that in this world’s economy we have to do work in order to receive our “rewards.” We want our kids to learn and to live the adage, “Hard work pays off.”
That is why the parable in today’s gospel text is so unsettling. It is easy to identify with the grumbling guys who worked sunup to sundown, through the heat of the day, and then watched in amazement as some slackers who worked for one measly hour, in the cool of the approaching evening no less, got paid a full day’s wage. Of course the full day worker EXPECTS more and SHOULD get more. It is only fair. More work should equal more wages. ”Hard work pays off.” But it doesn’t. Not in Jesus’ story of the kingdom… Because it is not about fair or just payments. It is about God’s mercy and grace in human life.
A story is told of the lady who had a stranger appear at her door and simply handed her a $100 bill. She was dumbfounded! Then the same thing happened the next day….and the next…and the next. For thirty straight days this stranger gave her $100 without explanation. On the 31st day the lady was waiting at the door when she saw the man coming down the street. But then he passed her house and walked up to her neighbor’s house, and gave her a $100 bill! The first lady was indignant and yelled at the guy, "Hey, where’s my $100 bill?"
It’s easy to think that when life is going our way that somehow we deserve it. We come to expect it. We even plan for it. This parable is not so much about the injustice of workers getting paid the same for different amounts of work. It is about God and God’s mercy and grace. Sometimes it appears that some people are receiving more of God’s grace than others. But as Christians we live, not in a world of justice, but of grace.
In the first reading Isaiah says: The thoughts of God are not the thoughts of man. The ways of God are not the ways of man. As the heavens are higher than the earth, the ways of God are higher than the ways of man and the thoughts of God are higher than the thoughts of man. The way of God is beyond the understanding of the world; the ways of men are limited.
In Israel there were many great veteran warriors to fight with Goliath. But, God chose a young boy who was not even able to put on the armor to subdue Goliath. When God chose a simple maiden, Mary, to be the mother of Jesus, there were many young women of respectable genealogy, who were hoping to be called by God. When Jesus called the illiterate fisher man Peter, in Israel there were many learned men who wished to follow Jesus. All these show that God chooses who He wants, and when he wants. And this call is a sheer act of mercy on God’s part.
God rewards us, not in the measure of what we do, but according to His good will. A full wage is offered to each of us, whether one has served him for a whole lifetime, or has turned to Him only at the eleventh hour. The story shows us how God looks at us, sees our needs and meets those needs.
All the people, no matter when they come, are equally precious to God. Similarly, long-time Church members should expect no special preference over recent members. Jesus warns them that the Gentiles who put their Faith in God will have the same reward a good Jew may expect. Matthew, by retelling this parable, may well desire to give the same warning to the members of his Judeo-Christian community who considered the Gentile Christians as second-class Christians. Those who carry out the will of God with love and humility will be acceptable before the Lord. So, Jesus says, “The first will be the last and the last will be the first.”
Pope Francis says: “The Church must be a place of mercy freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel.” The parable suggests that we can't work our way into Heaven because by our own unaided strength we can never do enough good in this life to earn our everlasting reward.
To God, we are more than just numbers on a payroll. All our talents and blessings are freely given by God. Hence, we should express our gratitude to God by avoiding sins, by rendering loving service to others, by sharing our blessings with the needy, and by constant prayer, listening and talking to God at all times.