Jesus told this parable to his disciples: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner going out at daybreak to hire workers for his vineyard. He made an agreement with the workers for one denarius a day, and sent them to his vineyard. Going out at about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market place and said to them, “You go to my vineyard too and I will give you a fair wage.” So they went.
At about the sixth hour and again at about the ninth hour, he went out and did the same.
Then at about the eleventh hour he went out and found more men standing round, and he said to them, “Why have you been standing here idle all day?” “Because no one has hired us” they answered. He said to them, “You go into my vineyard too.”
In the evening, the owner of the vineyard said to his bailiff, “Call the workers and pay them their wages, starting with the last arrivals and ending with the first.” So those who were hired at about the eleventh hour came forward and received one denarius each. When the first came, they expected to get more, but they too received one denarius each. They took it, but grumbled at the landowner. “The men who came last” they said “have done only one hour, and you have treated them the same as us, though we have done a heavy day’s work in all the heat.” He answered one of them and said, “My friend, I am not being unjust to you; did we not agree on one denarius? Take your earnings and go. I choose to pay the last comer as much as I pay you. Have I no right to do what I like with my own? Why be envious because I am generous?”
Thus the last will be first, and the first, last.’
Gospel for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The owner of the vineyard challenges and perhaps upbraids the workers he finds standing idle later in the day.
They give no satisfactory answer to his questioning as to why they are idle. Were they not there when he was first offering work? Perhaps they had gotten up late with pounding heads after a night on the town. Perhaps they were just lazy.
The master though invites them to consider their situation and to trust in him that they will get a just wage for what remains of the working day.
Maybe they do not deserve what happens next. But what they get is not determined by their work but only by generosity and love. The Master is not bound by ‘justice’ or rates for the job. He is bound only by the love of his heart.
Our own hope too lies, not in our striving, or even our virtue, still less in justice and the like. Our hope lies in the compassion and mercy of God.
Vineyards. Abbey of Lerins, France. (c) 2013, Allen Morris.