September 20, 2020: The Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Pastor’s Corner
In our Gospel this weekend, Jesus shares what has come to be popularly known as “the parable of the vineyard workers.” Many a reflection upon this passage is centered on the hours, condition, and payment that the workers receive for their efforts in the vineyard. Yet the particulars of the story do not emphasize the situation of the laborers, but rather highlight the surprising behavior of the landowner himself. Whereas we might focus on the laborers, those who heard this parable for the first time would have heard this as a parable of the “eccentric extravagance of the vineyard owner.” This is why Jesus begins the parable saying “the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner.” The point of the parable is to reveal an astonishing aspect of who God is and how He relates to us. Two details of the parable serve to illustrate.
First, the vineyard owner goes out to the market to hire the workers personally. At that time (and in most eras), this would be unusual to say the least. An owner of such wealth presumably has the means to have a foreman or other steward attend to the particulars of the harvest. Yet, this owner goes to each and every laborer and hires them face to face. Not only that, but he is constantly in search of folks for the harvest. He goes out to the marketplace not just once, twice, three or even four times. He goes five times, from dawn until dusk hiring everyone in sight who is willing and turning no one away. This overexuberant, undiscerning hiring practice is shocking, if not imprudent. Yet, this is exactly God’s attitude towards us. He wants to hire all of us to join in the harvest. To work in his field is not limited to a special group of experts or those who have unique skills. Sometimes, we think that if we are not a priest, religious, or work in a direct vocation of service, we are distanced from being part of God’s call. Or again, you may consider that you are not particularly qualified to share your faith or make a spiritual difference. Yet God calls both personally and universally. All have a part in the harvest. The only ability we need is availability to his call.
Second, the vineyard owner’s payment practices are the subject of some bewilderment. Those who are hired at dawn are promised a “full day’s wage.” And when it comes to settle the accounts that is exactly what they receive. God is just in all his ways. What is shocking, and the subject of some rancorous grumbling, is that the vineyard owner also gives a full day’s wage to those hired at dusk. When the owner hears the acrimony of the dawn laborers, he rightly points out that they have been treated fairly. Just because he was generous with the dusk worker’s compensation does not mean he was unjust with them.
God is generous. This generosity is not unjust, though it may seem to be to those who fall into the trap of comparison. If the dawn laborers did not know how much the dusk workers were paid, or if they had not invested their own worth and sense of self in comparing themselves with those who came later, they would not have fallen prey to the temptation of bitter resentment.
Comparison is the worst measure of health. For example, if one needs some changes towards healthy living but compares themselves to someone who is actively dying, they might be unmotivated to begin wholesome practices of eating and exercise. On the other hand, someone who is otherwise fit and vigorous might be discouraged with themselves when compared to an athlete. In either case, comparison either overestimates or underestimates the reality of the situation. When it comes to the spiritual life, one of the most dangerous things we can do is to compare ourselves with others. When we compare blessings or difficulties, joys or sorrow with others, we can easily fall prey to either of twin traps of temptation: pride or despair. When it comes to comparing, the only healthy measure of comparison is with ourselves. God wants to not only give us what we are owed, but wants to give us from the generosity of his mercy. The parable of the “eccentric extravagance of the vineyard owner” reveals that our God is personally and eagerly seeking us to join his harvest and, when we put aside comparison, we can expect that we will receive from the abundance of his blessings!
~ Fr Michael