A Reading from the Gospel According to Matthew 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.”
Opening Prayer: O God, who have prepared for those who love you good things which no eye can see, fill our hearts, we pray, with the warmth of your love, so that, loving you in all things, we may attain your promises, which surpass every human desire. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, you Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever. Amen
Encountering Christ: God gives his love, all of his love, to every person without exception if they open themselves to this love. It does not matter whether that happens early or late in life as this love can never be earned, only accepted. The fact that the latecomers were only employed at the last hour does not make their needs any less than those who came earlier. How big is my need for God today?
This parable addresses the attitude of the disciples, who had been tempted to focus on what reward they might receive for being close followers of Jesus. They had started to think that Jesus’ kingdom would bring them some kind of riches, or that it would elevate them above others. At first, we might assume Jesus wanted to teach them in the parable that he is just; giving workers what is due to him. “My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?” However, we know that in our case, the “daily wage” is eternal life. There is no amount of work, no calculation, no rationale that justifies our reception of such a profound gift from our superabundantly generous Lord.
Jesus is like the landowner who needs help, who has work to be done, who has workers in mind for the job. He will not put up with idleness. In a sense, doing Christ’s work bears a sense of urgency. Whether we were called to follow him early in life, or later, his voice invites our response now, today. He wants our collaboration, he wants us to be his hands and his feet to reach out to others and bring his love to our hurting world.
As a Deacon, I can appreciate this reading, as it is personal to me. My relationship with God started as an infant through baptism. I had ‘no say’ as to whether I wanted this or not. As I grew older though, I began to make my own choices and decisions. The guidance I received as a youth has always been felt inside of me, helping me, for the most part, make good sound decisions that have brought me to this stage of my life. Would I have even thought of becoming a Deacon 10, 20, or even 40 years ago? Probably not! But that is exactly where I am now. Am I any less worthy because of this? Not in God’s eyes!!
Our Lord’s reward for the daily wage is generous. Jesus invites his closest followers, his best workers, to adopt his generous heart toward others. We can be his best instruments of generosity when we ourselves are grateful for all he’s done for us.
Closing Prayer: Lord Jesus, I am more than willing to work for you! I long to be the humble servant in your vineyard, the one who would love to just give his life without expecting anything in return. There are so many ways my human nature gets in the way, and so often I find myself expecting or hoping for recompense. Help me to serve without counting the cost.
Today’s Action: ‘Are you envious because I am generous?’ Let this question linger in your heart, and ask for the grace of inner freedom when you look at your gifts and limitations, and at those of the people around you. Can you see the true love that rejoices in the gifts that others have?