The Gospel at Mass tomorrow, the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, comes from Matthew’s Gospel. It is one of the longer parables, a parable that draws is into a consideration of the world as it ‘is’ so that we might consider afresh how the world might be, if God’s will is done.
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.’
Recently the Church in England celebrated the work of Cardinal Manning in helping to resolve the agony of the London Dock Strike of 1889, and helping dockers achieve their argued-for and just pay of a tanner (6d, 2.5p) an hour.
Here, in Jesus’ parable, the issue is not the withholding of a living wage, but an exceptionally generous employer, subject of (some of) his workers’ complaints.
The point Jesus makes, is that the kingdom of heaven is not only about fairness and justice. It is also, and surely is most of all, about love. Employers and workers alike are called to live by the primacy of love.
The image bears the insciption of the Cardinal Manning Lodge of the Amalgamated Society of Watermen and Lightermen of Greenwich. It bears eloquent testimony to Cardinal Manning, one of the great leaders of the Catholic Church in the 19th Century.