Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Reflection: Matthew 20:1-16

Wednesday of the 20th Week in Ordinary Time: Matthew 20:1-16

Today we hear the parable of the landowner who went out at dawn to hire day laborers to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them the standard daily wage. Several hours later, the landowner saw several more workers in the marketplace. He told them: “Go to my vineyard and I will pay you a fair wage.” So they went to the vineyard. The landowner went out at noon and again at 3:00 p.m. He sent more laborers to his vineyard, promising to pay them for their work. And he did the same at 5:00 p.m.

At evening, the owner told his foreman to bring the laborers so he could pay them. However, the owner added: “begin with the last one hired and end with the first laborer who was hired.” The foreman did as the owner asked. The laborers who were hired late in the day were very surprised when they received a full day’s wage. After all, they had only worked a short amount of time. They went away very pleased. When the laborers who had been hired first thing in the morning came to receive their pay, they assumed that they would receive more than the wage they had negotiated. However, they received the same wage as all of the other workers that had been paid. These workmen were outraged. After all, they had labored all day long in the heat and they had worked many more hours than the men who were paid the same wage for only a couple of hours of work. The owner was not being fair! How dare he?

The landowner, however, stood his ground. He told them: “I am not cheating you! I am paying you the wages you agreed to. Tell me: how am I cheating you? If I decide to be generous, do I not have that right?” Jesus ends with the astounding statement: “The last shall be first and the first shall be last!”

I assume that most of us identify with the upset day laborers. Americans place a high value on fairness and fair-play. Jesus’ statement may not fit the criteria many of us may attribute to our concept of fair play. However, Jesus challenges us to step beyond our societal norms. The landowner was a generous man and he made the choice to pay each of his laborers a full day’s wage, regardless of whether they worked 8 full hours or only 30 minutes. He was fair with the workers who had worked a full day: he paid them the amount of money that they had agreed upon. He was not slighting them at all.

And as we know, these workers were jealous and they grumbled. Are we ever jealous or resentful when someone else receives a gift, acclaim or praise for an act that we don’t think they deserved nor earned? Jealousy and resentment may not affect the other person. However, it does affect us! It can eat away at us and make us miserable. When we compare ourselves to others, we may judge ourselves as above them or below them. Both judgments damage the other person as well as us. God is the one who is the Judge. Not us. Most of us have been gifted with abundant blessings. Today may we give thanks for the gifts and graces that we have and thank God — and let go of judgment, envy or jealousy. We will be happier and more peaceful!

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