Working in the vineyard
From Living Liturgy: Spirituality, Celebration, and Catechesis
for Sundays and Solemnities
Our cultural perspective makes it difficult for us to hear this gospel because...our awareness of labor laws and our concern for wages disposes us to focus on the workers in the parable and on the manner of payment. But this is a parable about "the kingdom of heaven" (20:1), not about first century labor practices. What can we learn by focusing on the "kingdom" aspects of the parable?Two items from the archives are a baptism sermon on this passage called One long day in the vineyard and the religion column How much sin is too much too forgive? on news that convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh had confessed his sins and received last rites. This story is also in our online coloring book.
First, notice that the landowner calls workers all day long. Though this may be seen simply as a plot device, it reflects the good news proclaimed by Jesus. God so desires people to share the life of the kingdom that God persistently invites people into the vineyard. In the parable it is the landowner himself—not a manager or other employee—who does the hiring. The landowner goes out five times to hire laborers, literally from "dawn" to "evening" (20:1, 8)...the kingdom is a gift which God is eager to share; indeed, more than merely eager, God is persistent in extending the invitation.
...those hired first are surprised at the landowner's generosity. But witnessing the landowner's generosity led them not to rejoice in such kindness, but to expect more for themselves. Though they agreed to their wage, they now wanted more than justice. But mercy and generosity are gifts: they are neither earned nor deserved. The mercy Jesus extends to tax-collectors and sinners who have only responded to God's call in this final hour is a gift of that mercy and generosity which characterizes God's kingdom. God deals justly with everyone, and generously with those in need.