By Angelo Anthony, C.PP.S.
Our initial reaction to today’s parable about the laborers in the vineyard might be to say, “That’s not fair.” If those who worked only one hour received the usual daily wage it stands to reason that those who worked all day in the hot sun would receive more money. We have the saying, “A fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.”
The setting for the parable shows the landowner going out to hire day laborers. These workers were not salaried or under any contract. They did not have jobs that they could count on. All were needy and vulnerable, hoping to earn enough that day to feed their family. Every day they had to wait and watch and hope.
We get the impression that there is a sense of urgency found in the parable. Maybe it was harvest time for the grapes and the additional laborers hired could assure a timely harvest and a better yield. I also wonder if those chosen last were the weaker workers–the older, handicapped or infirmed workers. It stands to reason that the fit and strong workers would be chosen first; kind of like a game of pick-up baseball, where the captain chooses the best players first. Strong or weak they had the same concerns, “How do I feed my family today?”
The purpose of a parable is to draw us into a deeper meaning about life. We are invited to let go of our perspective and bias and go deeper into the mystery of God’s love for us and all people. All too often we cut God down to our size and put words into God’s mouth, telling God how things are supposed to work. Thankfully, God is not limited or restricted by our human way of understanding.
Jesus wants us to see that the work of the Kingdom of God needs to be done and that all who respond to God’s call to work in the vineyard will be paid equally, the gift of salvation. This gift of salvation is not based on merit, power or time worked the field. God’s concerns are so much bigger than our concerns.
The Lord says through the Prophet Isaiah: “So my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. As high above the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts” (Is. 55).
If the laborers who worked all day had not compared their wages with those who worked only an hour, they would have been satisfied. They received the agreed-upon wage. The problem came when they compared their wages with what they saw the other workers receive. No doubt there has been a time or two when we have envied a friend’s good fortune or special talent.
The cure for envy is to recognize that we are all on this journey of life together as the Body of Christ. Whether you are eight years old, 25, 50 or 90 years old, God provides for us according to God’s will. It’s like a mother who says, “I love all my children but not equally. I love the one that was down till he got up. I loved the one that was weak until she got strong. I loved the one that was sick until he was well again. I loved the one that was lost until she was found.” Each is loved according to his or her need at any given time. As St. Augustine says, “God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.”
Every time we pray the Our Father prayer we say: “Give us this day our daily bread.” In a sense we are like day laborers. Each of us stands in a position of absolute dependency upon God. God doesn’t owe us anything for the labor we do. What He gives is given from a heart that is generous and unconditionally loving.
Rather than be envious or jealous of someone else, God asks us to celebrate the rich diversity and the many blessings that are given to our world. We must place our trust in God whose thoughts are above our thoughts, who holds all creation together in himself, who is generous and rich in mercy.
Fr. Angelo Anthony, C.PP.S., is the pastor of the Downtown Dayton parishes, which include Emmanuel, Holy Trinity and St. Joseph. He also serves as the vice moderator general of the worldwide Congregation.