September 24, 2017
XXV Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
The Gospel of last Sunday was structured on two main axes: on the one hand, the immense and unlimited love of the Father, who forgives the man an unpayable debt, and on the other, the relationship of men with one another, a more tedious and complex relationship, which struggles to welcome the magnitude of God’s heart. But if Father’s forgiveness and love do not transform and do not enlarge the human heart, they remain ineffective in some way.
Also in today’s passage, we are facing the same dilemma.
The parable that opens the twentieth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew portrays first of all a truly unique “master of the house” (Mt 20:1): he has a vineyard that requires working, and he himself comes out several times in the day to hire workers for his vineyard. He comes out five times, at different hours of the day, and everyone that he finds there he hires, promising an appropriate compensation. He also comes out when the work day has ended, and it seems as though he is more concerned that everyone is employed than for his own vineyard and his own interests. He is more concerned than the workers themselves that all are working. This is a first paradox.
But there is a second, even more evident, when evening had already come, the master has asked the foreman to give the “just” (Mt 20:4) promised compensation to the workers. The paradox begins with the order of distributing wages, which is already a reverse order: “beginning from the last to the first” (Mt 20:8). Why does he begin with the last, and not with those who had first begun to work?
Beginning to pay from the last hired, the first are, necessarily, made spectators of the “injustice” of the master, who gives everyone the same wage; it almost seems that the master has called them for this reason: not only to work, but to see how He pays.
And to see this, the first cannot but learn from the last, who do not show themselves and the strength of their work, but the paradoxical gratuitousness of the master’s gift.
The first are scandalized, and they murmur: murmuring is a recurring verb in the Exodus. They are different episodes in which Israel is unable to see the salvation of the Lord. Even in our text today, there is an inability to see: the “first” see the injustice suffered, and do not see the goodness of the master, who, summoning them, reproaches them for being envious (Mt 20:15), or incapable of seeing. They see that the last receive a wage like theirs, but they are unable to see in this mode of acting the goodness of the master.
But why do they feel so offended? Of what have they been cheated?
Not certain of the wage, which was just and respectful of the agreement: one denarius a day, the master had told them at the beginning of the day (Mt 20:2).
The “first” feel cheated by their certainty of having deserved the wage, of being compensated exactly for what they did. They were cheated by the certainty that that money was due to them, that the master was in debt with them. Also, they feel cheated by the insidious gratification of having worked longer, of being better.
The master really disrupts this way of understanding life, faith, vocation, as if it were a simple give-and-take that remains balanced, that is never unbalanced, that does not know the gratuity of love. He turns upside down a relationship modality that’s unfamiliar with the chance of giving. And so, he opens up a different justice, the justice of the Kingdom, where we are called to work in the vineyard, but to be there freely to receive a free recompense: it is really another way of living!
Only then is there room for solidarity, that is, for the chance to enjoy the good that comes freely to a brother, as came freely to me. The alternative is envy: and the parable tells us that all envy towards a brother is actually envy towards the Lord, towards His generosity. A generosity that teaches through the least, those who cannot boast except of the grace of the Lord: they are the true masters, who become the first (Mt 20:16) and pass before us with the humble testimony of those who have learned the gratuitousness of the Lord.
They are the only ones to have truly something to teach.