Updated: Oct 23
Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE]
Today, our Lord gives us a beautifully consoling parable, which can also be considered a challenging one, particularly for those who may sympathize with the laborers called at dawn.
Their logic goes something like this: I worked more than the others: I arrived earlier and I worked longer. Therefore, I deserve more than the rest, even though I did receive exactly what I agreed to; namely, the usual daily wage.
Sadly, those laborers subscribed to a certain philosophy, which proclaims that my value is relative to others. My worth is measured by my distance from others. For me to win, others must lose, because life is a competition. That’s how they felt.
And so, when they receive their payment, they unleash their anger upon the landowner: “You made them equal to us”, as if to say: “Who do you think you are, establishing equality where there are fundamental differences? Who are you to reward everyone equally, when we worked more than anyone else? Are you blind? We worked all day; we obviously ought to be compensated more.
That’s the logic of the world. But this is no ordinary vineyard, and no ordinary landowner. Under symbolic images, Jesus teaches the crowds the nature of his Kingdom, which doesn’t function according to worldly economics. In the Kingdom of God, judgment is given simply according to God’s perfect justice: "You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just," says the Lord.
Comparing oneself with others, self-interested calculations, sliding scales based on relative standards, the need to have things “my way,” and the worst of them all—that egotistical sense of entitlement—that’s the cancer that devours the human heart, and lurks within each of us, regardless of age, experience, education, background, culture, status, and so on.
Jesus understands all of this all too well. And he came to change that mind-set, because it absolutely and unequivocally is incompatible with his kingdom where love is the standard.
That love is shown through the personal interest of the landowner in our parable.
Notice how he goes out personally to gather laborers into his vineyard. He had a foreman who could have done that, but he deemed it necessary that he himself call each laborer individually, face to face. It’s necessary that each laborer hear the master’s voice and look him in the eye. That penetrating gaze of the Master sees beyond what could ever be quantified in paltry monetary terms.
Who were those called at the end of the day who worked for an hour? Who were those called earlier in the day? Who were called at dawn?
From our bulletin this week, in that painting from Salomon Koninck, we can readily identify the man called at dawn. We may recognize another man in the image who was likely called near dusk. The dawn laborer is portrayed clearly as a man of strength. The other laborer, the one who clearly marvels at the payment received, is elderly, and appears perhaps as someone who would have been unable to bear the day’s burden and the heat.
Who else might be like that man? Who else might not have the strength of a man in his prime? Think of anyone you might actually know. Perhaps a widow or an orphan. Perhaps the elderly. Perhaps the malnourished. Think of a single parent, who carries the weight of much responsibility on her shoulders; with little left in the tank for herself. Think of the disabled veteran who returns from war. Think of the child whom many in society have rejected. Think of a child who simply desires to be born. Think of the someone born blind, or deaf, or physically impaired in some way.
None of them have the strength of an athlete in his prime. None of them can compete at that same level. But none of that matters, anyway; not in the vineyard of the Lord. Their presence can’t be quantified into hours; their value is far beyond pearls. It’s without measure.
In the vineyard of the Lord they will not be left behind. The Lord sees their face and knows their heart. He has a place for them. “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,” says the Lord, “and I will give you rest.”
When these laborers who had arrived last, are called first, and receive the full day’s wage, the laborers called at dawn were also offered a reward that was particularly reserved for them. But unlike the master, their heart wasn’t in the right place; and so, they failed to claim their reward. And then they rebel out of a distorted sense of justice.
Their reward was this: since they were last to receive their wages, they were given the beautiful gift of being able to witness the joy, gratitude, and wonder that surely filled the faces of those laborers who were called at the last hour. Like one who rejoices at the return of a lost lamb, those who came with the dawn were called to share in the master’s joy.
If they loved those who labored for an hour, would that have made a difference? I suspect it would. If the men in Koninck’s painting—the powerful man and the elderly man—if those men were father and son, I suspect the dawn laborer would wear quite a different expression.
Those first laborers missed that reward of sharing in the master’s joy, because they were only focused on their own profit. There was no sense of community within their hearts: between laborer and landowner, and between the laborers themselves.
And so, they are cast out. They must take what is theirs and leave. They must leave the vineyard, no longer in communion with the landowner nor the other laborers. They must leave the Kingdom of God.
There is no compatibility between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world. Why some arrive earlier and some later in the day; why some labor at this and others at that; why some appear to be more important than others; and, above all, why all nevertheless enjoy the same bliss; all these questions, that unsettle the calculating human mind, must become submerged in the ocean of love and mercy that is given freely to us all.
Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, by Salomon Koninck, c. 1647 – 1649, oil on canvas, Hermitage Museum [Public Domain]