The gospel today by Matthew is a perplexing parable. In the present –day labor standards, this parable looks like a case of unfair labor practice.
The employer here is God or Jesus Christ. At the time of Jesus Christ, it was customary for workers to assemble at dawn in the plaza of cities and towns, where vine growers and farmers could hire them for one day’s work. The employer hired workers at 6 a.m., 9 a.m., 12 noon, 3 p.m., and 5 p.m. Work ended at 6 p.m.
The employer signed a contract with the first workers to work one full day for a denarius (silver coin), which was the standard wage. The rest of the workers did not have a contract but a verbal agreement of a just wage.
The employer paid first those who worked one hour with a full-day wage. So the workers hired at dawn expected to receive 12 denarii but only received 1 denarius; they became angry and demanded more. To them the employer answered, “ Are you envious because I am generous?”
The parable shows the employer to be both just and generous. He was just to the first workers. He did not violate agreement with them by being so generous to the later workers. For him the first workers have sufficient money to keep them going for another day i.e. no food on the table. His action was motivated by compassion for the poor workers. All workers are treated on equal terms.
Some of us may feel uneasy about this parable. What is wrong? In this day and age no employer pay wages out of pity. If anyone ever did, he would stay in business only for a short period of time; besides the regular employees would protest. In real life this parable would not hold ground.
This gospel teaches us a lesson: There is something wrong with human pettiness. In the first reading, God says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways.”
Would you like to know what God is like? God is compassionate and generous. No one can compete with God’s compassion and generosity. God’s generosity cannot be judged by human standards. We could appreciate and be thankful for God’s tremendous generosity.
By virtue of our baptism we are co-workers in the vineyard of our Lord Jesus Christ. And this is grace because it is a gift freely given by God. It is purely grace that we share in the compassionate mission of our Lord Jesus Christ while we are journeying on earth. Some of us were called first to work, others later in life. We agree with our Lord Jesus Christ to live a life of faithfulness and love for Him, with the expectant hope He would give us a just reward.
In the meantime, sometimes some of us judge what and how others are doing or not doing. Some of us get envious at gifts or graces other people receive from God. There is a tendency to compare and thereby become disappointed and distressed. Many struggle to live a good life in Christ. Around us in the world are people who “get away with murder,” greed, theft, violence, murder, human trafficking, moral degradation, idolatry, “raping of natural resources,” graft and corruption, unjust war, yet live prosperous lives; they are better off financially, physically and socially. Some cannot help but be envious of them. Some youth nowadays have fallen away from church because they cannot help but be angry and ask our Lord Jesus Christ: “Where are you in all these transgressions? Why don’t you take control?” If Jesus Christ would respond, He would probably answer: “Am I not free to do as I wish? Are you envious because I am generous?”
Of course our Lord Jesus Christ would like us to be happy as children of our Father and the Blessed Virgin Mary. While on earth as pilgrims and co-workers in the vineyard of God, we do our best to be faithful, hoping expectantly to receive our just reward of eternal life, acknowledging that we cannot attain this reward by our own merits, but by the grace and generosity of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.