Monday, September 19, 2005

Parable of the good employer

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?


xaipe said...

There was a great homily at St. Peter's in Chicago yesterday which tied this parable to the "attitude" manifested by the elder son in Luke's parable of the Prodigal Son. My own reflections have continued on the gospel, because I found it consoling: even if I am "late" to recognize God's call to me from day to day, or I fail to hear him in my prayer, or I just don't have a clue--God is not standing there with a stopwatch. I think the parable grates us the wrong way precisely when we think we have some kind of "leverage" with God: when we feel we can bargain with him; when we are "owed" something. God's generosity shows us just how puny all our leverage is.
There is also the correlation of the theme of the parable with the relationship of Christian Jew and Gentile: the Gentiles were being received into the community as full equals, even though coming "late" and without the many covenants of promise, just on a word of mercy.
Anyway, I want to spend some time this week with this parable, because I have newly discovered that it applies to me as someone who doesn't really have "leverage" with God, but who has been "highly favored" nonetheless. The parable invites us to see ourselves as given "full measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over."

40 Days said...

I agree about entitlement. In college I took a course on ethics which included Dietrich von Hildebrand’s Ethics. I did not understand it very well, but what I did take away from the book was the idea of fundamental moral attitudes and the moral obligation of gratitude. While gratitude may begin as a natural emotion, it takes effort to sustain it; the same is true for love of which gratitude is a necessary component.
It is the tradition of Eastern churches to read St. John Chrysostom's Resurrection Homily which refers to this difficult parable, "Let all pious men and all lovers of God rejoice in the splendor of this feast; let the wise servants blissfully enter into the joy of their Lord; let those who have borne the burden of Lent now receive their pay, and those who have toiled since the first hour, let them now receive their due reward; let any who came after the third hour be grateful to join in the feast, and those who may have come after the sixth, let them not be afraid of being too late, for the Lord is gracious and He receives the last even as the first. He gives rest to him who comes on the eleventh hour as well as to him who has toiled since the first: yes, He has pity on the last and He serves the first; He rewards the one and is generous to the other; he repays the deed and praises the effort."
We are all of us a mixture of the laborers in the parable; we are first and last. Each of us has ways in which he very willingly serves God, and each of us has ways in which we have refused until the 11th hour to serve God and can only ask for His mercy.

karen - missouri said...

How lavish God is when it comes to His children! Who among us "deserves" any of the blessings that come pouring from Heaven?

Praise God for His lavish love...