25th Ordinary Sunday (A) Matthew 20:1-16

Today’s Gospel is Matthew’s rendition of the parable of the workers in the vineyard. There is an urgency involved in the story because at the end of September, in the Middle East, the grapes ripen and the rainy season would start soon after. Therefore it was necessary to harvest the grapes quickly before the rains began. So the owner of the vineyard hired as many workers as he could find to finish the work.

The aim of the story is threefold: First, as a warning to the disciples. Jesus teaches his disciples not to claim a special honor because they were the first to follow. All the people who follow Jesus, no matter when they come are precious to God. Secondly, it is a warning to the Jews. That they should not look down upon the gentiles. Jesus says that the gentiles who put their faith in God will have the same reward of a good Jew. And third, it is an explanation of why Jesus loves the sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes. Jesus imitates in his human life the generosity and mercy of God his Father who seeks all for his love, especially the lost who need to be saved.

In order to get to the kingdom of heaven we have to enter into the vineyard, which is the Church and we enter through the gift of faith and the sacrament of baptism. There are many of us in the vineyard today, over a billion. Some of us are like the workers who started first thing in the morning, baptized as children and raised as Catholics all of our lives. There are many others who have come to the vineyard at different times in their lives, and there will be some who come at the last minutes of their lives, but God treats us all with the same love and mercy. The parable tells us it is our job, no matter how or when we came to the faith, to remain in the vineyard and labor honestly for God as he showers us with his grace and blessings.

But for us, especially today, the story seems unjust. From our perspective it seems that justice would require that those who work the longest or the hardest should somehow get a greater reward and when that doesn’t happen we react in the wrong way. We see this wrong reaction throughout the Bible, e.g. note how Jonah pouts and is displeased with God when he spares Nineveh; And the brother of the prodigal son who refused to share his father’s joy when his wayward brother returned; Or how about the Pharisee who thanked God in prayer that he wasn’t like the sinful tax collector. But God doesn’t see these matters in the same way we do, he sees our heart, our soul and has interest in us as a person. Out of his sovereign generosity God can and does exceed the bounds of distributive justice. The parable emphasizes his sovereignty: — “Am I not free to do what I wish with that which belongs to me?” And his generosity: — “are you envious because I am generous?”

The parable has meaning for every age and every nation that desires to grasp the basic theme that Jesus brings to us. We know that God is all-just, but this does not mean that God’s love and mercy are unjust. The parable suggests that we can not work our way into heaven. We can never do enough good deeds in this life to earn our way into heaven. Does this mean we should not do good deeds? —Of course not, good works are a sharing of the love of God. If we love God and we know God loves us, then we strive to do the good works of God. That’s why St. James says, “For as the body apart from the Spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead (James 2:26).” We are all in need of the gift of grace from our Creator, and this comes through a relationship with his Son Jesus for the only way to the Father is through his Son. Jesus is saying we all have different lives to live and no matter how or when we came to the faith, we all get treated equally by God. A priest will not necessarily receive more grace than the deacon because he is a priest, or neither of them more grace than any of the laity. At the end of the day we are all paid according to how we have lived our lives, God loves all people with equal value. He has given us one commandment: “love one another as I have loved you.”