The Sunday Gospel for this week was the parable of the workers in the vineyard, which could also be called the parable of the good employer. This is one of those puzzling parables that can strike us as being unfair. Based on this parable, no labor union would endorse Jesus if he were running for some office!
I was looking at Daniel Harrington's commentary on Matthew to help me understand it better. He pointed out that the story right before this--about the rich young man and how difficult it is for rich people to enter the kingdom--ends with the line, "Thus the first shall be last, and the last shall be first." It's almost as if Jesus then went on to tell this story to illustrate that.
The point I took away from it is that I can't look on my service to God as something that "entitles" me to a reward. If I"m giving my life freely to God out of love, I'm doing it out of love, and I shouldn't be doing it in hopes of getting some reward. If God wants to give me something out of his generosity, great. But if not, and if other people seem to be getting just as much as me even though they came late to the vineyard, that's great too.
Entitlement is the key issue here. That's what goes against the grain for us Americans, because entitlements are woven into our whole way of life. But before God, we're not entitled to anything. If I think I am, I need to remind myself who's the Creator and who's the created.
Immediately after this parable, Jesus talks about the suffering that awaits him and the scandal of the cross. He ends by saying that the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve. Jesus' own attitude shows that he was more than willing to work all day in the vineyard, bearing the heat of the sun all day, and not expect a reward. He came to serve and to suffer.
What are your thoughts about this puzzling parable?