25th Sunday - Gospel commentary
I will be away this week on retreat.
Gospel Commentary for 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap
ROME, SEPT. 19, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The parable about the workers sent out at different times to work in the vineyard has always caused big problems for readers of the Gospel. Is it right for the owner of the vineyard to pay the same wage to those who have worked for only an hour and those who have worked the whole day? Does this not violate the principle of just recompense? Today workers' unions would rise up together to denounce any owner of a company who did this.
The difficulty we are experiencing here stems from a certain equivocation. One thinks of the problem of recompense in the abstract and in general or in reference to eternal recompense in heaven. Seen in this way, it would effectively contradict the principle according to which God "will repay each one as his work deserves" (Romans 2:6). But Jesus is talking about a specific situation, a very precise case. The only wage that is given to everyone is the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus has brought to the earth; it is the possibility of entering into the messianic salvation to be a part of it. The parable begins by saying that "the Kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn ..."
The issue is, once again, the position of the Jews and the pagans, or the just and sinners, in relation to the salvation proclaimed by Jesus. Even if the pagans (or sinners, publicans, prostitutes, etc.) only decide for God on the basis of Jesus' preaching, although they were distant (like the people who had been standing around "idle" in the marketplace and came to the vineyard later in the day), they will not, for this reason, have a different or lesser place in the kingdom. They will be seated at the same table and will enjoy the fullness of the messianic goods. Indeed, since they show that they are more ready to accept the Gospel than the so-called just, we see the realization of what Jesus says at the end of the parable: "The last shall be first and the first shall be last."
Once the Kingdom is known, that is, once faith is embraced, then there is room for diversification. Those who serve God their whole life, bearing the most fruit with their talents, and those who give God only the leftovers of their life and make amends with a ramshackle confession at the end of their life, will not be treated the same.
The parable also contains a spiritual teaching of the greatest importance: God calls everyone and everyone at every hour of the day. Here we move from the recompense to the call itself. This is how John Paul II used the parable in his apostolic exhortation on the vocation and mission of lay people in the Church and in the world, "Christifideles Laici."
"The lay members of Christ's faithful people ... form that part of the People of God which might be likened to the laborers in the vineyard mentioned in Matthew's Gospel ... ‘You go into the vineyard too' ... The call is a concern not only of Pastors, clergy, and men and women religious. The call is addressed to everyone: lay people as well are personally called by the Lord, from whom they receive a mission on behalf of the Church and the world" (nos. 1-2 passim).
I would like to draw your attention to an aspect that is perhaps marginal in the parable but that is strongly felt and vital in modern society: the problem of unemployment. The landowner asks: "Why have you stood around idle all day?" and the workers answer: "No one has hired us." This disconsolate reply could well be that of millions of unemployed people today. Jesus was not unaware of this problem. If he is able to describe the scene of the parable so well it is because he had many times looked with compassion upon those groups of people sitting on the ground or leaning against walls waiting to be hired.
The owner of the vineyard knows that the workers of the last hour have the same needs as the others who were hired at the beginning of the day; they too have children to feed. Giving everyone the same wage, the owner of the vineyard shows that not only is he taking account of the merit of the workers but their needs. Our capitalistic societies base recompense on merit (often more nominal than real) and on seniority in work, and not on the person's needs. When the young worker or professional has the most need for his family and for a house, his pay is the lowest, but when he is at the end of his career, when he has less need (especially in certain social categories) he has arrived at the stars. The parable of the workers in the vineyard invites us to find a more just balance between the two demands of merit and need.