‘Are you envious because I am generous?’
The Good Employer
We need to understand two important realities about the grace of God as depicted in the parables of Jesus. The first is just how extraordinary God’s forgiveness, His generosity and His outreach truly is. The second, and related truth, is that this unfathomable divine grace often conflicts with what we might consider in human terms as justice.
Unless we resolve spiritually to put aside our earthly views on how God ought to behave, it is unlikely we will ever fully comprehend or experience his grace. Many parables illustrate this potential conflict.
Today’s parable is set in a field where the owner is hiring temporary workers for back-breaking labor in his vineyard on a hot day. Willing workers are hired at daybreak, but as the day wears on, more laborers are hired periodically as needed, the last being hired late in the afternoon.
When the workers gather for their pay, they discover that, regardless of how long they worked, all received the same wages. The early ones, expecting to earn more than the idlers, grumble: ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ (Matt. 20:12).
The grumbling strikes a familiar note. Many of us learn from early childhood that when things do not go as we expect them, we proclaim ‘That’s not fair!’ Yet we need to ask ourselves whether the generosity of the landowner to the latecomers was an injustice to the others. He had agreed with the first workers on ‘the usual daily wage,’ and told the others went to work on the condition that the owner would ‘pay whatever is right’.
For the generosity of the owner we should read the grace of God. If we begrudge this generosity, perhaps it we are used to thinking of God in terms of rewards and punishments, rather than of charity and compassion. We run into many ‘begrudgers of God’ in the Scripture, the elder brother to the prodigal Son, for instance, or the prophet Jonah, who resented the forgiveness of repentant pagan city of Nineveh.
When asked why they stood standing in the marketplace, the idlers replied: ‘Because no one has hired us.’ The vineyard in which the workers were called to labor is a symbol of the Church. The Church must extend an invitation to all and at any time, and and those who ‘bear burden of the day and the heat’ should rejoice in their own salvation.
Above all, at the end of the day, when the accounts are reckoned, two truths shall be fully revealed. The Kingdom is God’s gift to give, and the first called will no advantage over the last. No one enters it by merit, but by his grace and forgiveness. Let no one begrudge the generosity of God!