My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.
I will be honest with you, if I didn’t know the ending to the Gospel parable I would have been on the side of the morning workers. Their complaint resonants with me, it makes sense: “We worked the entire day, laboring through the heat and the sun, and yet you pay us the same as what you give those others who worked for a mere hour? That is not fair!” It seems so obvious that the payment of the workers is not just, is not equitable, that from their perspective our blood starts to boil. Scientists actually tested a similar idea of equitable pay with monkeys. They trained two monkeys to do the same task and expect a reward, and once they were trained they gave one monkey a grape while the second one watched, and then they gave the second one a piece of cucumber; the monkey threw the cucumber at the scientist and started trying to rip open the door of its cage.
So when we hear how the workers are paid, a part of us is like that monkey, frustrated at what we think is injustice… and then the landowner says, “my friend… you agreed to your wage… are you envious because I am generous?” and our eyes are opened. The landowner views his workers as friends! This is not a matter of injustice because the morning workers received what was just! Keep in mind that the landowner was paying them at the end of the day because it was required by the law that daily workers get paid on the day of their work, because they needed that money to survive, one day to the next. The landowner had compassion for the later workers and chose to provide for them. It is the morning workers, instead, that are at fault, because they could not see the other workers and the landowner as friends; they deceived themselves into thinking that their envy was something righteous instead of something sinful.
But this is not a parable about income equality or even at its heart about how to treat each other… this is a parable about the kingdom of heaven. The landowner continually goes out during the day to seek more laborers for his vineyard, just as Christ continually seeks us throughout our lives, desiring to make us his own and help him work in the vineyard, help him build up that kingdom. Different people hear and respond to that call to holiness at different times in their life, and in a love above petty envy, the longer we avoid living for Christ the more desperate he becomes to gather us in even at the last hour of our life.
So the meaning of the Gospel depends on who you are. Are you one of those morning workers? Have you been striving after holiness, working to create virtue in your life, and struggling to reject temptations to sin and a false way of life? Then rejoice, because the Lord will treat you justly for the life that you have offered him. And when a lost brother or sister comes to faith, don’t be jealous that they have your reward as well but praise Christ, who rescued your friend from sin and death. Or are you the evening worker? Have you not fully committed yourself to faith and to seeking the will of God in your life? Then as you listen for that call to come into the vineyard, you must learn to be idle. Stop trying to fill your life with empty attachments to things that will pass away, trying to create meaning and purpose for yourself that will never be fulfilling. Stop listening to the desires that this world presents to you, and with your soul set in silence you will hear the call of Christ.
As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.
We should give thanks that the parable did not end as you or I might have written it. We should give thanks that God’s thoughts and ways soar above our own, that justice can at the same time His mercy. May we have the courage the trust in Christ and listen to his call, and together all of us be led to that vineyard and help build the kingdom.
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Homilies are meant to be heard, not read… and part of the Eucharistic liturgy, not words that stand alone. Please remember that no homily is written with this blog in mind.