TWENTY-THIRD DAY OF LENT
When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” – Matthew 20:8-16
This parable about the generous landowner is made powerful because it goes contrary to our common understanding of fairness. The unfairness is not that the first workers received less than their agreement stated, but that the last workers seemed to receive more than they ought to receive. But again … that was the agreement. No contractual terms were broken, but it still seems quite unfair.
And it is that “unfairness” that Jesus uses to drive home His point. No one goes to heaven by way of relative merit. It is not a competition. It is not being in the top one percent or ten percent or even fifty percent. In the “Justice Christianus” there is no relative worth when it comes to the worth of a soul, only the generous Providence of God.
I once spun a possible addition to this parable. Suppose all the workers and their families were experiencing despite economic times. Possibly the reason why they were gathered at the labor pool. Suppose among those workers were two close brothers. One brother was chosen in the early part of the day, while his brother was not. All day, the brother who a job was concerned that while he could provide for his family, his brother would not be able to provide for his. Suppose the working brother then saw his unemployed brother then later saw his brother finally getting work. Now both brothers could provide for their families. I suppose those brothers could consider this quite unfair, but then again, those two brothers could consider that they both had been blessed.
“In the “Justice Christianus“, the ultimate concern is not a matter of fairness but a matter of reconciliation … for it is an aspect of Divine Providence.
Always in Christ’s Service,
Fr. Charitas de la Cruz