September 24, 2023
XXV Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
The parable in today's Gospel passage (Mt 20:1-16) is one of the strangest of the parables told by Jesus. It is divided in two parts.
In the first (v 1-7) we see the owner of a vineyard going out several times during the day to look for workers to send to work in his vineyard.
This is quite an original master: four times this man is reported to go out of his house looking for workers, so that at the end of the day, none of those he met was left without a call, without a job, without something to do.
He seems to be interested not so much or not only in his vineyard itself, but rather in the workers, so that everyone would have employment and thus also a living wage.
In the second part of the parable we witness the wage scene, which is inaugurated by a very significant verse: the master orders his intendant to give wages to the workers, "starting with the last arrivals and ending with the first." (v. 8).
Here we find a first oddity, the order of calling is not respected: the first called to go to work are paid last, and the last, first.
More seriously, the last ones are also given the same salary that was agreed upon with the first ones (v. 9), one denarius a day (v.2).
Those who worked in the vineyard all day and those who worked there only an hour, all receive the same pay.
Moreover, it is obvious that the Master purposes so that the first workers can see that the latter are paid the same as them.
Why all this?
Perhaps because the first ones need to learn something that their eyes are not yet able to see.
Coming out of the metaphor of the parable, we could say it like this: the last ones teach the first ones something simple and fundamental, but not taken for granted: God is good. If there were no last ones, the first ones might think that God is only just; but by watching the last ones, the first ones learn that for God, justice and goodness coincide.
So at the heart of the parable is a fundamental question, a decisive provocation, the one whereby we are called to ask ourselves how each of us stands in the face of God's goodness: it is a question we cannot escape.
God is good, and He gives everything to everyone, unconditionally, without calculation: we saw this again last Sunday, with the parable of the unforgiving servant (Mt 18:23-34). There, too, we encountered the image of a God who gives without calculation and puts one condition not that we return the gift to him, but that we share it with others.
Today's parable takes us a step further: it is not only about sharing God's gift with our brothers and sisters, but also about rejoicing with the other over what they have recieved, without perceiving it as something that is taken away from us.
In fact, the servants of the first hour happens to feel bad at the sight of the good, they become envious because the master has been good (Mt 21:15).
This happens when we stop seeing what we receive as a free gift and not as a merit, just like the unforgiving servant of last Sunday, convinced that he could repay back all of his debit (Mt 18:26). The first ones, who do not learn the lesson of the last ones, who do not let the latter pass them by (cf. v. 8), are people who see their own merits but do not see God's goodness, and so, in the end, exchange good for evil.
That is why, in our communities, the "last of these" are a gift, they are our teachers, those who stand before us: those who do wrong, those who suffer, those who do not make it, those who remind us that God's love is for all, that it is not to be deserved, but only welcomed.
And that the only way to be unworthy of it is to think that we live up to it, and then to be scandalized if God gives everything even to those who, in our opinion, are not worthy of it.