During the last couple of years of my mother’s life, she became more and more physically incapacitated and found it difficult to get to church. So when I was visiting home, I would often celebrate Mass with her at the dining room table, sometimes with other family members and at other times just for the two of us. My mother was never shy about sharing her thoughts and opinions. Occasionally, after I would finish reading the gospel for the day, she would offer an impromptu comment about what I had just read.
I remember one Sunday when the gospel reading was the parable that we hear today – the parable of the “workers in the vineyard” or, perhaps more precisely, the parable of “the good employer.” After I finished reading this parable my mother immediately commented, “Well, I just don’t understand that gospel. It doesn’t seem fair. You’ll have to explain that one to me.” I quietly chuckled to myself at the honesty of my mother’s reaction, though I must admit that many of us probably have the same reaction. Why should those who worked only an hour or two receive the same wages as those who toiled all day long in the scorching heat? It doesn’t make sense, does it?
It is important to realize that Jesus’ story is not about social justice or fair labor practices. It is really about the generosity of God. The vineyard owner says to his complaining employees, “Are you envious because I am generous?” This story highlights the fact that God’s grace in our lives is pure gift – a gift that we cannot circumscribe or limit with our own categories of human accomplishment and divine reward. It reflects Jesus’ ministry to the people who were on the margins of society in his day. He was criticized for being “a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” Such people were viewed by the religiously observant as undeserving of God’s favor. Yet Jesus reached out to them with compassion, and he often found in them a response that was much more open to his proclamation of the reign of God than that of the observant.
As we pray with these Scriptures today, perhaps they are a reminder to us that our life with God is, first and foremost, a response. The life of discipleship is not an “olympics of holiness” – a series of promethean spiritual feats that we accomplish on our own and then await reward from God. Our life with God is, at its heart, a response to God’s faithful, tenacious love for us. The First Letter of John puts it succinctly: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4: 10). The generosity of the vineyard owner in the gospel parable reflects the lavish generosity of God, which overflows human boundaries of merit and reward.
Today, may we be grateful for the ways that God has revealed his boundless love to us and may we respond to God’s love with a generous heart.
- Dusting for Prints (thepassionists.org)
- Being Patient as we Ponder the Surprise (thepassionists.org)
- The Apostles and Matthew’s Community Meet a Woman of Great Faith (thepassionists.org)