One of the hardest lesson to learn while growing up is the truth that life is not fair. While most of us learn this lesson, we do so begrudgingly, which is why it is so easy for us to identify with the moaning workers, who labored from sunrise to sunset in the blazing heat, only to discover that those who came later and only worked an hour received the same pay. Yet as the prophet Isaiah reminds us in today’s first reading, God’s way are not our ways and if we take a step back we should be grateful that God’s ways are above our ways. After all if God played by our rules what would become of us?
An honest assessment of this parable shows us that the owner did nothing wrong. The employer hired the first workers at dawn for what they agreed was a fair wage, and then he kept on hiring more works throughout the day and in the end paid them all the same. Did the owner not payout the fair wage that he promised to pay to each worker? Did not the owner act justly? Did he not give each laborer what was their due?
If we view the story from the perspective of the workers who toiled in the heat all day, we might understand how they feel the owner acted unfairly. But you see the vineyard owner makes it clear that his payment is not about giving each worker payment in accordance with what they accomplish, but rather about the owner’s desire to be generous. While it may not seem fair, we should be grateful that it is God’s understanding of fairness. After all if we sympathize with the workers who toiled in the field all day and scream of an injustice, I shudder to think what that means for us and our salvation.
You see we are like the laborers who received a full day’s wage for only an hour of work. None of us deserves eternal life and in fact none of us can truly earn eternal life. You and I can hold out hope for eternal life only because in the Father’s great generosity, He sent His only Son into the world to suffer and die, so that we might be made partakers of eternal life. In the parable, each worker gives what he is asked to give in labor and each receives what is needed to survive. It’s a beautiful lesson about God’s grace in our lives, namely, that if we do our part to follow after Christ, He will provide us with the rest. For in God’s eyes, compassion and sharing reign supreme and no one is left to lack the basic necessities of eternal life if they are willing to receive them. I don’t know about you, but personally I take comfort knowing that our God is a God of love and mercy, and not simply a God of justice.
While those who worked all day scream of injustice, justice was actually served and their cry of injustice is really a facade which hides their ingratitude for being called. You see like those who were called later in the day, those laborers who were called in the morning had nothing going for them. Rather than be grateful that they were extended a job which would provide them a fair day’s wage they complain that the master offered others the same deal he offered them. Ultimately then, today’s parable invites us to take a step back and ask ourselves how we look at things in life. Do we count our blessing or tabulate our disappointments? Are we motivated by gratitude or by envy? Do we see the glass half-full or half-empty? In short do we see things from a selfish worldly perspective or do we try to see things from God’s perspective?
God’s understanding of fairness is different than the world’s understanding of fairness. God does not treat us the way we deserve to be treated. Rather God blesses us and forgives us, lifts us up and restores us. For at the end of the day it is God’s hope that we all do the work He gives us to attain eternal life. So, whether we were called early in the day or at the last moment before death, God’s wage of eternal life demands an attitude of gratitude and challenges us to do our part to labor in the vineyard He has called us to trusting that in His love and mercy, He will pay us the wage of eternal life.