‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay” (Matthew 20:8).
Jgs 9:6-15; Matt 20:1-16
Preachers will recognize today’s Gospel parable as the “It’s not fair!” story so many congregations react to when a homilist tries to justify the vineyard owner’s decision to pay all his workers the same wage. “It’s not fair!” Why should latecomer and slackers get saved alongside the early risers and full- day laborers?
In its original form, Jesus seems to have deliberately provoked the self-righteous faithful to get them to understand God’s mercy for sinners. God loves good people and will save them, but rescuing sinners takes nothing away from life’s winners to ask them to accept life’s losers as brothers and sisters. After all, life with God is not owed to anyone, but is a pure gift for everyone.
Matthew later lets the original parable speak to the resentment of Jewish Christians for Gentile converts. Mercy, not merit, is God’s offer to everyone. Loving each other is a sign we understand divine mercy, limitless and unconditional. Luke’s parable of the Prodigal Son is also an appeal to the righteous “older brother” to accept his scapegrace younger brother who was lost and is found, dead and now alive again. Come to the party. God wants both brothers together at the table.
Jesus’ parables of mercy also rescue the self-righteous from the trap of thinking they do not need God or that they are better than other people because they keep the rules. Keeping the rules is its own reward, and without God all our virtue becomes a stumbling block to real holiness—the freedom to love as God loves. Rule-keepers who judge others spoil the joy of loving for its own sake, not as a prize for being good.
God is like the parent who does not love every child the same. Those who need more love receive it. Those who manage are loved no less, but do not need as much attention. Rejoice in that, and do not begrudge God the right to show a preferential love for the poor, the weak and the sinner. Instead, join God in doing the same, and your joy will be complete.