USCCB Podcast of the Readings:
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew.
Jesus told his disciples this parable:
“The Kingdom of heaven is like a landowner
who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard.
After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage,
he sent them into his vineyard.
Going out about nine o’clock,
he saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard,
and I will give you what is just.’
So they went off.
And he went out again around noon,
and around three o’clock, and did likewise.
Going out about five o’clock,
he found others standing around, and said to them,
‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’
They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’
He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’
When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman,
‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay,
beginning with the last and ending with the first.’
When those who had started about five o’clock came,
each received the usual daily wage.
So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more,
but each of them also got the usual wage.
And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying,
‘These last ones worked only one hour,
and you have made them equal to us,
who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’
He said to one of them in reply,
‘My friend, I am not cheating you.
Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?
Take what is yours and go.
What if I wish to give this last one the same as you?
Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?
Are you envious because I am generous?’
Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Good News Reflection: The joy of being last instead of first
The landowner that Jesus describes in the Gospel reading today seems as unfair to us today as he seemed to the Jews who first heard this parable. We can better understand the point Jesus is making if we think of it in terms of parenthood. A loving mother cares about each of her children equally. Although she gives more attention to those who need it more, she loves the last born no less than the first born, even if she has a large household.
God the Father is like a vineyard owner who gives equally to all, regardless of how long anyone has worked in his service. Since we cannot earn our way into heaven, equal benefits are not an injustice to those who labored for his kingdom all of their lives.
Rather, God’s been giving us complete and perfect love since the moment of our conception in our mother’s womb. Although we’ve become aware of his goodness a lot sooner than those who only discover a relationship with him at the last minute (and this is a benefit we enjoy but they lack), he has been loving them since the moment of their conception, too. He can do no less.
Early in life, we learned that we can get more approval from Mom or Dad if we get more A’s on the report card or more trophies in sports than our siblings. Such competition affects us after we grow up. When God blesses us, we think: “I earned it!”
And when we feel unblessed because bad things happen to us, we think: “I’m not sure God loves me as much as he loves others. Why? Because I have to earn God’s approval and no matter how hard I try, I’m just not good enough.” And: “My prayer hasn’t been answered yet because I haven’t said enough Rosaries.”
But none of that is necessary with God. God is so generous in his love that we don’t have to do anything to receive blessings from him. Well, actually, there is one thing we do have to do: We have to approach the vineyard owner with our hands open.
In God’s vineyard, the last is put first, because the one who is last is the one who’s not competing with others to earn first position. This is the person who knows that God’s love is always available simply because God is love. We don’t have to climb any ladder of heavenly success; we’re instantly on the top rung the moment we discover that God already loves us fully. The only reason we serve him and work hard for him, giving him our best, unwilling to be mediocre, is simply because we love him so very much.
What happens next is so awesome, it’s saintly. We lose the selfishness that has kept us from putting others first. We find joy in helping our brothers and sisters receive the Father’s assistance ahead of us, happily praying for them more than we pray for ourselves. And we get excited when the “lazy bums” in the family, the ones who’ve been rebelling against God all their lives, finally join the Christian workforce and benefit from God’s love as much as we do.
Beloved Lord: Forgive me, because I’ve tried to judge Your wise and holy decisions using my own criteria. Root Your justice in the depths of my heart and mind to help me be the servant of Your vineyard that You want me to be. Amen.
© 2017 by Terry A. Modica