Gospel Reflections

25th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Matthew 20:1-16a

Sunday Gospel Reflection by Sister Barbara Metz

Published: September 21, 2014


One morning returning from an 8:00 am Mass in South Africa where I had recently arrived, we passed a large field crowded with men in royal blue cotton suits with each carrying a lunch bag. The Sister driving the car said to me, “Barbara, there in front of you is the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. Each of those men has arrived ready to work by 9:00 am and only some will be taken by the builders. The others will remain in this field, in the heat, hoping for the landowners to realize they need more help and then, hopefully, they will be taken at intervals during the day and thus be able to earn something to support their families.”

Day laborers, then and now are at the low end of the economic spectrum. Scenes similar to this play out around the globe. They are in a very vulnerable position. Their work is sporadic. Life for these workers is precarious and unpredictable. They know hunger, separation from their families, discouragement, and are often reduced to begging. The fact that some are idle all day in the field is not uncommon. This is not because of their unwillingness to work but, because no one hired them. Most likely the elders, the infirm, the physically disabled were the ones left behind and, in Jesus’ parable, the vulnerable are engaged in the last hour to finish up the work.

Jesus is deliberately provocative in the way that he describes the payment of the workers. Those who came last were paid the full days’ wage first in the presence of all who had worked all day. Jesus is challenging the sense of fairness held by most of the men that would say all should get compensated for the amount of work done. He has the landowner respond to the objectors by saying,” I am not cheating you. I gave you what I agreed to give you. Take it and go.”

There is no injustice. There is boundless generosity and goodness. The generosity and goodness are so shocking that they evoke envy and anger. It is a moment of truth, a moment to reveal the heart of God. God always responds to our need and never to our deserving. This is an amazing truth and one that is very hard to accept. Can we be in prayer before a God who is that generous? Can we be changed by that prayer? It is very hard. We need to engage over and over again the question in the parable? “Are you angry because I am generous?” or “Are you angry because I am that good?” What does the goodness of God really mean in relation to human neediness? What does it mean for us to be good? This parable calls us to profound conversion in our ways of thinking about and responding to one another.

In prayer: Be before the goodness of God expressed in this parable with the prayer, “Change my heart, O God.”

 

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