Today's Gospel: Matthew 20:1-16
Optional Memorial of Saint John Eudes, Priest
Some atheist arguments against Christianity hold that the Bible is a collection of fantasies. Scripture is just there to make us feel good and to give us the false hope of a pleasant afterlife. As Karl Marx famously said, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”
Those who believe that clearly are not familiar with today’s Gospel.
Today, we are presented with the parable in which Jesus tells us that the kingdom of heaven is like the landowner who goes out at dawn to hire workers for his vineyard. He goes back to town several times later in the day bringing more workers with him each time.
The last group of workers was hired just an hour or so prior to quitting time. The workers who arrived last were paid first and were paid a full day’s wage. The group that arrived earliest was last in line to be paid and protested when they discovered that they were to be paid the same amount as those who worked only for an hour.
The landowner countered the grumblers with a reminder that they were being paid a wage that they had agreed upon. It was not their place to tell him what to pay others.
The reading ends with the famously difficult quote, “Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.” The point of the parable runs against the grain for those of us who would like God to conform to a human approach to justice. If the landowner was operating in the United States today, he would be in trouble with any number of unions and government agencies!
There is the suggestion here that salvation is God’s business, not man’s. A person who had a lifetime devotion to Christ may have to share heaven with someone who was called to Jesus after a lifetime of wickedness.
Jews listening to this parable may have found it difficult to accept Jesus’ message that the Gentiles would be counted among his people. Was that fair after generations of keeping Mosaic law?
It’s enough to make your head spin. This is a hard parable to take in. It’s no wonder that the last time I heard this reading at Sunday Mass, it was paired with Isaiah 55:6-9, which includes this verse:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
As high as the heavens are above the earth,
so high are my ways above your ways
and my thoughts above your thoughts.”
The good news is this: the landowner kept returning throughout the day, making sure that everyone who wanted to work was included.
Note that Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner,” not “God is like a landowner.” Why did he phrase it that way?
Lord, I pray that I, too, will be called and that I shall show proper gratitude for what I have been given.
We thank our friends at The Word Among Us for providing our gospel reflection team with copies of Abide In My Word 2015: Mass Readings at Your Fingertips. To pray the daily gospels with this wonderful resource, visit The Word Among Us.
Copyright 2015 Kirk Whitney
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