Matthew 20:1-16
Just or Generous?
 by Rev. Stanley J. Krempa
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Matthew wrote to show that Christ was the
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.

The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard.  After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard.  Going out about nine o'clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and he said to them, 'You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.  So they went off.  He went out again around noon, and around three o'clock, and did likewise.  Going out about five o'clock, he found others standing around, and said to them, 'Why do you stand here idle all day?'  They answered, 'Because no one has hired us.  He said to them, 'You too go into my vineyard.' 

When it was evening, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.'  When those who had started about five o'clock came, each received the usual daily wage.  So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage.  And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying, 'These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day's burden and the heat.  He said to one of them in reply, 'My friend, I am not cheating you.  Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?  Take what is yours and go.  What if I wish to give this last one the same as you?  Am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?  Are you envious because I am generous?'  Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last."

Some people, maybe even many, are puzzled by today’s Gospel parable. When we hear this story told by Jesus, we focus on the seeming injustice of those who worked for only one hour being paid the same as those who worked for a full day. The thrust of this parable, however, is not on justice but on God’s generosity even to the latecomer.

There is a joyous Easter homily by St. John Chrysostom that says in part, “If anyone has labored from the first hour, let them today receive the just reward. If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let them feast. If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let them have no misgivings; or they will suffer no loss. If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, let them not fear on the account of tardiness … For the Master … has mercy upon the last and cares for the first … enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and whether first or last, receive your reward.”

The point is not how long they answered the call when it came. The call of the Lord to us to work in the vineyard can come at all the seasons of our life. It may come when we are young or in middle age. It may come in our senior years or even at the last moments. That call is proportionate to our ability and energy.

Our God is a generous God. There is a time for justice when the judgment comes. But now, in this life, is the time and season of mercy. We all need to ask ourselves these questions.

The first is whether we want God with a “hair trigger” sending punishment in the wake of every sin? How many saints would have survived the vagaries of their youth to be able to experience the conversion of life that led to their becoming saints if God had not been generous?

What about ourselves? Do we seek justice ahead of mercy? We know that for ourselves, we want mercy. We expect it. We depend upon it. We plan on it. Are we willing to be generous to others as the Lord is to us?

As has been said many times, we are a materially generous people. We have seen the outpouring of help given to victims in times of natural disasters. Are we willing to be as generous when it comes to forgiveness, patience, tolerance and understanding? It is much easier to give someone a coat rather than to give a second chance. It is much easier to give a check rather than an encouraging word. It is much easier to give someone in need a box of dry goods rather than to volunteer three hours of our time.

This parable speaks about God’s generosity to those who answer His call at whatever hour that call may come.

Are we willing to be generous to others as God is to us? The confessional that is found in every church is a reminder of God’s generosity to us at whatever hour of life we answer the call.

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