In today’s Gospel, we hear of how the vineyard owner paying one denarius to the workers who worked one hour and also paid the same amount to those who worked the whole day in the heat of the sun. I can imagine many of us may be saying to ourselves, if the owner wants to pay one denarius to those who worked one hour, why can’t he at least pay more than one denarius to those who worked and slogged for the whole day?
My brothers and sisters in Christ, if we are not comfortable with such generosity of the owner, then our attitudes are precisely what Jesus is describing in today’s Gospel. We all want fairness and justice, which in itself is good. But, then Jesus in today’s Gospel story explains that the owner has not been unjust!? He had agreed with the workers that the just wage for the whole day was one denarius, and they each agreed and accepted the deal.
From the full day’s workers’ point of view, the problem is not that the owner is unjust, but that they began to compare what they received with what others received. Such comparisons created new expectations that they felt were “justly” due to them. Such expectations and demands for equality and justice is a cold and heartless justice that is calculative, but is lacking and absent of compassion.
All the hired workers were in need; they were poor and were desperate for work and were waiting the whole day to be hired. Bible commentators tell us that it was the time of harvest, and grapes had to be harvested very quickly or else they will spoil and go to waste. And so, the owner went to the market place to look for more workers at different times of the day; when he saw them, he hired them all.
But, at the time of payment of the workers’ wages, the owner decided to pay all of them the same wage of 1 denarius. The reason why the owner decided to pay every worker the same amount was because all the workers were poor and in desperate needs. In other words, when the owner came to pay his workers, he not only assessed them by how much work they did, but on how much need they had. As such, he ended up paying them all the same amount.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, if we ponder on this parable further, we will realise that Jesus is describing the generosity and divine compassion of His Father towards all of mankind and towards all of us. And, if we reflect on our lives, we will begin to realise that God has been infinitely compassionate towards us in all the needs of our lives. He has been blessing us so abundantly and has been giving us all that we need and more, even though we do not deserve any of them. All that we have in life comes from God; what we are today is because God has been infinitely good and generous with us. If not for God’s Goodness and unconditional love for us, we would certainly not be alive and where we are today.
One of the problems we have is that we forget that God has been blessing us so abundantly and when we become envious and jealous of what other people are receiving from God, we fail to appreciate what we have received from Him and fall into the temptation of being ungrateful to Him.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, let us imagine a scene of a crowd of several thousands of people waiting at the gates of heaven; all waiting for their turn to be judge as to whether they are to get into heaven or be turned away from heaven. As we wait for our turn . . . not knowing whether we would get straight into heaven or not, we suddenly hear announced that the gates of heaven will now be open and everyone without exception will enter the kingdom of heaven.
How would we feel? While many may be so happy to hear of the news, in all probability, many would also feel that it is not fair that the great sinner whom we knew in life would also get off so easily and get into heaven. We would feel uncomfortable and even upset that a sinner gets into heaven so easily because we tell ourselves, why shouldn’t so-and-so be punished for the sins that he had committed during his life time . . . and as for me, I have tried so hard to live a good life, I come to Mass every Sunday, I give to charity, I pray every day . . . and this person had done none of these and gets away so easily with his sinful living?
My sisters and brothers in Christ, don’t get me wrong . . . I am not trying to preach a theology that is saying that there is no need for atonement of our sins after we die. My main point is that God is so infinitely compassionate and His Love is so unconditional, which is what the owner of the vineyard is being portrayed, . . . that God’s Compassion is not like our human compassion. We have a great tendency to expect to be treated equally, but forget that Jesus is also preaching the Gospel value of Compassion.
When the owner of the vineyard showed compassion to the workers who only worked one hour for the day, his compassion was moved by the needs and pains of his workers. In his generosity, he shared what he had with those in need, even though they were totally underserving.
The infinite Compassion and unconditional Love of God is clearly shown in Jesus’ life and in His teachings. If our hearts are still cold and calculative and have a greater preference for justice . . . instead of favouring the compassion shown by the owner of the vineyard, then have we forgotten the parable of the Prodigal Son or more rightly called the parable of the Prodigal Father? We know that the Father showered his Compassionate Love on his younger son who squandered his property and wealth through his sinful living . . . but was unconditionally forgiven. Have we also forgotten the teachings of Jesus who said to Peter, “We must forgive seventy times seven times, which is all the time!? Have we also forgotten how Jesus forgave the adulteress whom the public wanted to stone, but themselves are also sinners? Most importantly, have we forgotten how while Jesus Himself hanging on His Cross prays to His Father, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing?”
This list can continue, but let us never forget God’s infinite Compassionate and unconditional Love for every person, even though we do not deserve them. And when God shares His Love and attends to our needs, He gives us in great abundance . . . At the Wedding Feast at Cana, when the host ran short of wine, Jesus, through the requests of His Mother, changed 6 jars of 20-30 gallons of water (probably rain water) into the finest wine. When Peter and his friends did not catch any fish after labouring the whole night, Jesus’ instruction led them to haul in a catch that their boats were filled to sinking point. When 5,000 men (not counting women and children) were hungry the end of the day, after hearing Jesus preach, Jesus transformed 5 loaves and 2 fish to feed all of them; leaving 12 baskets of leftovers.
We all have our different needs and God has always provided for us and blessed us abundantly; much more than we ever need; gratuitously, freely. He has also loved us unconditionally and forgiven us compassionately and patiently at all times. We are each called to do the same for each other.
Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.
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