TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME A
Texts: Isaiah 55:6-9; Philippians 1:20c-24,27; Matthew 20:1-16a
By Fr. Augustine Agwulonu, OP
Theme and summary:
Equal wages and sufficient divine grace for all who work in God’s vineyard: God has all it takes: justice, generosity, and wealth of abundance, to attend to each and every human person according to their states and needs in life.
Consequently, seek the Lord! He is always near, merciful, generous, forgiving, and immanent. He generously gives his grace to everyone. Paul’s Life in Christ and his engagement for the faithful unfold according to Jesus’ design and plan. And so, like St. Paul we too must be docile servants of the Lord for the accomplishment of his divine will in our lives.
A structure of today’s Gospel parable
- 1 Exposition
Vv. 2-7 Systematic hiring of workers into the vineyard, 5x in one day
Vv. 8-10 Climax: equal payment for all workers
Vv. 11-12 Tension because of disgruntlement of the first hired workers
Vv 13- 16 Resolution/denouement: in defence of equal payment to all workers
Analysis, theological meaning, and practical application
The exposition presents a man, a landlord who compares with the kingdom of the heavens. And so, the kingdom of the heavens is like a man who owns a vineyard. He goes out with the singular purpose of hiring workers into his vineyard.
According to the unfolding of the episode, the landowner goes out five times to hire labourers into his vineyard. He draws up a contract with all his workers except the last group that he hires at five o’clock. His dialogue with the last group was the question and answer concerning the reason that there were standing around idle all day. When they answered that no one had hired them, the landlord asked them to go into his vineyard.
In the evening, the landowner pays the workers an equal amount beginning with the last group of labourers that he hires.
The first group of workers complain about the equal payment for all. They argue that they have worked longer than the others in the vineyard. This complaint reveals the tension in the literary parabolic narrative.
On his part, the landlord puts the opposition by the first workers to rest on three grounds: previous agreement on the wage, right to his generosity, and freedom to dispense his personal wealth as he pleases.
Some people tend to emphasize on God’s justice. Others underscore his mercy. Still, others attempt to seek balance between God’s justice and his mercy. We could see the two equal arms of God’s justice and his generosity of mercy at play in this Sunday’s Gospel parabolic text. God treats the workers according to his previous agreement on the wage and according to the pleasure of his generosity respectively. However, the human tendency to stratify the society and place people into hierarchies displays its dissatisfaction with God’s divine will and freedom. However, the truth is that God cares for the wellbeing of all his children. He makes sure that everyone receives what is sufficient for life and sustenance. This is beyond the consideration of time and human contribution. Equity for God might not necessarily imply “equal opportunity” as it means that everyone has enough to live on. God’s love for human beings is unconditional. This is what today’s parable dramatizes.
The parabolic narrative calls and invites God’s children to understand that we are all working for the one, loving, and the same God and Father of all of us. We can observe how the landlord is very active all through the day hiring workers into his vineyard. This is how God engages in our human affairs in order to ensure that we have what we need for good and quality life. God establishes us in his vineyard to earn our living, not to engage in competition, contest, and avaricious conquest. It is not about who is the most powerful and who has worked more than all the rest. It is not about the payment of different wages, according to the number of hours that one has worked. No, rather, it is about the communion and union with God in his kingdom of righteousness and salvation. After all, the last group of workers were standing there all day waiting to be hired. It is not their fault that no one hired them earlier! The issue here is not about distributive justice, but rather it is all about God’s divine grace, which is sufficient for all. God’s gift of grace is not measured according to quantity but by quality. “My grace is enough for you!”
Therefore, today’s Gospel invites us to be grateful to God for his grace to us. It is important to acknowledge and recognize that God takes the initiative to hire us to work in his vineyard. Our response must be obedience of faith, thanksgiving to God, and mutual appreciation of one another as co-workers, brothers and sisters in the community of God’s faithful. We shall always rejoice in the provision of the basic spiritual and physical necessities for good and quality life by our loving God, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen!