In the gospel of Mark, right after His baptism and the temptations in the desert, Jesus begins His public ministry with the words, “repent and believe the Good News; the Kingdom of God is at hand” (Mk 1:15). Jesus introduces the theme of the Kingdom as His agenda for His public ministry. All four evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) will record different events where Jesus alludes to the Kingdom in His teaching. This is going to be one of the major themes in the gospels. The way in which Jesus is going to expound this theme is by way of parables. Of the four evangelists, Matthew would have the most parables related to the theme of the Kingdom of God and in each parable, some characteristics of the Kingdom will somewhat emerge. In fact, Matthew 13 is known to be the ‘parables of the Kingdom’.
Our gospel today comes from Matthew 20 and the Evangelist will have Jesus taking up this theme once again. However, the parable we just hear, the ‘parable of the labourers in the vineyard’ which is peculiar only to the gospel of Matthew, would seem a little different from the others because it breaks down people’s conventional ideas. It would be quite strange in the cultural world of Jesus that a worker who has worked for twelve hours be paid the same as the one who only worked for an hour. These are in fact ‘day labourers’ who depend on daily wages to put food on their table. What the master does seems to go against all human logic. Imagine yourselves putting in extra hours at your workplace and at the end of the year, your bonus is the same as the one that did the least amount of work. Wouldn’t you feel that there has been some injustice done towards you? Wouldn’t you feel angry? You may even think, next year I am going to do less because it does not pay to work extra. Anyone in this situation would be provoked to a similar reaction.
However strange this parable may sound, the intention of Jesus in using this parable was not to talk about justice in the way we humans think. It is not about justice and remuneration. Rather, this is a parable about the justice of God in choosing to be generous to everyone, irrespective of who they are or where they come from. The key point in this parable is that our God is a generous God and that He provides us with what we need and not necessarily what we want. Often our grievances against God is for not giving us what we ask for.
Among the greatest weaknesses of humanity are greed (avarice) and envy. These are listed among the seven capital sins. Greed and envy are not just limited to wealth and material gain, but they are also related to power. Many of us live in this bubble and what drives us is this insatiable desire to want more and have more. I have yet to come across anyone who has said, ‘I have enough’. In truth, the generosity of God surpasses the human mind but the reason why we fail to recognise it is because greed (avarice) and envy blind us. They are obstacles to experiencing the bountiful love of God.
What greed and envy do is that it makes us focus on what I do not have and justifies as to why I should have it. In doing so we fail to recognise and appreciate what we already have – which is a result of God’s generous love for each one of us. It is not a sin to want more but when it becomes excessive and insatiable, which could lead to an obsession, then it leads us away from recognising and even appreciating what little we may have received from God.
No one can claim to be more deserving than others whom we seem to think have received more. But the reality is that we are all equally and totally recipients of God’s boundless generosity. What we ought to be doing from time to time is to stop and appreciate with a grateful heart for all that we have rather than complain what we do not have or what others have. In the parable, the labourers who came first received wages for the day that would have put food on their tables. Instead of being happy that there is now money to buy food, they went away unhappy because of their greed and envy for more – the result of greed and envy is misery while satisfaction only brings happiness.
In a book entitled ‘The Seven Human Needs: A Practical Guide to Finding Harmony and Balance in Everyday Life’, the author Gudjon Bergmann writes: “Everyone who is alive can find something to be grateful for if they look for it. If you are among the few that can’t find anything, start with the fact that you are ALIVE and continue from there.” So, let us be thankful to our generous God who has brought us here today to celebrate our thanksgiving, our Eucharist.
– 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)