The parable in today’s gospel was one that Jesus used for one occasion and the Church remembers for another reason.
Many people could relate to the story Jesus tells. Unskilled laborers gathered in the market place hoping they would find work that day. Some were successful others were not. We can imagine the disappointed of the un-chosen. They would go home that evening with no money to feed their families. Someone has referred to this Sunday as, “It ain’t fair” Sunday. At first reading it really isn’t fair. Those who worked all day should have received more than these Johnny come latelies.
Jesus said that He was sent first of all to the lost sheep of the house of Israel; to the people who followed God’s ways since Abraham and the early covenants. They have been faithful, laboring to be a part of God’s kingdom. The apostles are being prepared to enter the vineyard here at the last hour. The scribes and Pharisees represent the long line of holy and devout Israelites who bore the burden of faithfulness through the centuries. They well know that God’s ways are different from theirs as they remember their long religious history. As we heard in Isaiah “My thoughts are not your thoughts nor are My ways your ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth so are My ways higher you’re your ways. In the eyes of the Scribes and Pharisees the followers of Jesus are not only new-comers, they don’t even keep the customs and traditions nor do they respect the authority structures of God’s ways. The key words in this parable are those about how the owner kept going out at all hours to invite and employ. This owner is constant, his message is the same and his promises for payment are standard. God is faithful and inclusive, as opposed to our ways which are so judicial and selective.
The Apostles and the disciples are the late-comers whom Jesus has called into the vineyard to labor with and for Him. They will be rewarded, though their fidelity has been shorter. Is this fair? The first and last will all be included. All will have to adjust their feelings based on God’s ways not being like theirs.
This was the original teaching Jesus had in mind. But Matthew tells this parable with something else in mind. One of the big issues in the early Christian communities was the fact that non-Jews, the Gentiles were anxious to follow Jesus, they wanted to join what was strictly a Jewish community. Some of the first followers of Jesus resented their presence, resented their being welcomed into the community. So the parable is addressed to those members of the community who resented these late comers and who were convinced “it ain’t fair”. The message of the parable is true in both understandings, the older and younger, the newly-called and the ancients are all going to receive God’s love equally.
Maybe a modern parallel to this parable can be found in the mentality of people who resent new comers to Canada. Have you ever heard anyone complain about ‘these people’ who come over here and take jobs away from Canadians, ‘these people who come here and get government assistance paid for by our taxes?’ They are Freddy free loaders. This parable could apply to the protectionism of different professions who hinder the newcomer from practicing their skills in Canada. They use the lame excuse, “they don’t meet our standards, and they have no Canadian experience.” In other words, “they don’t belong here.”
If you are not a member of our First Nations then you are a boat person. Our families, no matter when they came to Canada, came here looking for a better life, a freer life. If we take the time to look back into our own family histories we would learn that they were blessed in having the chance to make a life in this land. Why would we deny that same blessing to others?
The message of the parable is that we are all a graced people. We have no exclusive claim on the mercy and love of God. As St. John tells us, “this is the wonder, not that we love God but that God first loved us and sent His Son to be our Savior.” St. Paul teaches, “Before the world began God chose us to be His adopted sons and daughters.” If ever we find ourselves resenting the goodness or mercy of God to others we could ask ourselves, “where would we be without that same goodness and mercy.” We may resent the generosity of God toward others but where would we be without that same generosity?
As we continue to celebrate this Mass we can pray for ourselves and for each other that each of us finds in our hearts the generosity and inclusiveness we see the landowner and be happy that God is as generous with others and God is with us.