This story throws light on the kingdom of heaven: A landowner went out early in the morning, to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay each worker the usual daily wage, and sent them to his vineyard.
He went out again, at about nine in the morning, and, seeing others idle in the town square, he said to them, ‘You also, go to my vineyard, and I will pay you what is just.’ So they went.
The owner went out at midday, and, again, at three in the afternoon, and he made the same offer. Again he went out, at the last working hour—the eleventh—and he saw others standing around. So he said to them, ‘Why do you stand idle the whole day?’ They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ The master said, ‘Go, and work in my vineyard.’
When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wage, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’ Those who had gone to work at the eleventh hour came up, and were each given a silver coin. When it was the turn of the first, they thought they would receive more. But they, too, received one silver coin. On receiving it, they began to grumble against the landowner.
They said, ‘These last, hardly worked an hour; yet, you have treated them the same as us, who have endured the heavy work of the day and the heat.’ The owner said to one of them, ‘Friend, I have not been unjust to you. Did we not agree on one silver coin per day? So, take what is yours and go. I want to give to the last the same as I give to you. Don’t I have the right to do as I please with what is mine? Why are you envious when I am kind?’
So will it be: the last will be first, the first will be last.”
Most humans are endowed with a natural sense of fairness. This is manifest in any group of children to whom, say, an ice cream cone is given to each, with a simple scoop of ice cream on each cone. Well, try giving a cone with two scoops to one of the children, and all the others will protest and condemn you as being unfair.
That is why, upon hearing the parable contained in today’s gospel reading, a lot of people feel that the landowner is decidedly unfair, since he paid the same salary (the one initially agreed upon by the first group of workers) to all workers, even those who had worked only one hour. Now here we must remember that in this parable the landowner represents God.
In his answer to the protesters the landowner denies being unfair, since he paid the first group exactly the salary they had agreed upon. But he admits that he goes beyond fairness into the realm of kindness. And that is exactly what God does with us. He never treats us with mere fairness, otherwise we would all be damned. Fortunately, we can rely on his kindness, and that is our salvation.
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