A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew:
Jesus told his disciples this parable:
“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,
the landowner 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.
And he went out again around noon,
and around three o’clock, and did likewise.
Going out about five o’clock,
the landowner 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?
Or 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.”
You see, it’s not all about the work.
You are supposed to work. We all have to be about the Father’s business. But it’s not all about the work.
The Father doesn’t need anything. He has everything already. He could do all of the work Himself if He wanted, but He calls us into the vineyard anyway. He calls all of us: the ones who’ve been Christians for as long they can remember and the ones who just got here. He calls the people who are tentatively looking on and wondering if they belong. He calls the people who seem to have their whole lives together and the people who seem like a mess. He calls the perfectly orthodox and the bruised reeds. He calls happily married mothers of seven and single mothers of one. He calls sick people and healthy people, people whose sins are hidden and people whose sins are obvious, introverts and extroverts, queer people and straight people. He calls the whole world into His vineyard.
In the vineyard, we start to make distinctions. We draw lines between the ones who have been Christian for as long as we can remember and the ones who just got here. We mix up Christianity with the things we associate with our Christianity– with our culture, with our race, with our socioeconomic bracket, with our comfort zone. We revere the people who sin in ways we think are normal and revile the people who sin differently than we do. But the Father doesn’t do that. The father calls everyone into the vineyard.
In the vineyard, we perform the work. The Father wants that. He loves us so much that He wants everyone to have a role in His work, the weak and the strong, the successes and the failures, the people whose hagiographies you hear and the people whose whole struggle is hidden. But it’s not all about the work.
It’s all about the Father, and the gift He wants to give us.
That’s the secret. It isn’t a wage at all. The work is too big for any of us to do it adequately, and all of us fall short. The strong and the weak both fall short. The ones who have been Christian for as long as they can remember fall short. The ones whose sins are invisible to us. The ones we revere fall short. The Father knew we were going to fall short. He isn’t angry that we fall short. He loves us us just as much when we fall short, as when we first showed up for work.
If He paid us all a wage that our work deserved, not one of us would get anything at all.
What He gives us is a gift, because He wants to give it to us, because He loves us.
We are offended by this, because we think we are employees. We don’t realize that we’re children. If we knew we were children, the whole Church would look entirely different. Because we think we are employees, we’re offended when He loves the one who got here recently as much as the one who’s been here a long time. We’re scandalized that He loves the children who are inconvenient to us as much as He loves the ones who try to make themselves useful. We cry foul when He loves the ones who sin differently as much as the ones who sin in the usual way, the way that we do, the way that we justify to ourselves.
We are envious because He is generous.
We are envious because we think our sojourn in the vineyard is a transaction, when it’s really the Father giving us a refuge. We are envious because we think His blessings are our just desserts, when they are a gift. We are envious because we think we are employees in a rivalry to be the best, when we’re actually children at the vineyard of our Father.
Is He not free to do as He wishes?
What He wishes to do, is love.
Thus the last will be first, and the first will be last.
Whoever has ears, let him hear.
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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