Gospel reading for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Matthew 20:1-16a
In the parable in this Sunday’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells a story of a landowner who hires laborers throughout the day to work on his vineyard. He hires some in the morning, some in the middle of the day, and some in the evening. At the end of the day, he pays them all the same wage. Those who started their work in the morning are not happy. They feel they deserve more and that those who worked less deserve a smaller wage. They feel they aren’t being treated fairly. They are unhappy because they are comparing themselves to others. Their happiness is dependent on two things: 1) what they receive, and 2) how their lives relate to the lives of their coworkers.
The landowner has a different perspective. The people who weren’t offered work until the end of the day were likely on the fringe of society; they were possibly not as healthy, weaker, or rejected for one reason or another. The landowner recognized their worth and that they needed help, regardless of how much they were able to offer him. From the landowner’s perspective, it wasn’t about how much they could do for him to earn their wages. It was about what he could give them and what they needed, and he followed through on his promises for each and every one of them. His focus was on how much he could give and how much good he could do, rather than what he was owed.
The times in my life when I have been most unhappy have also been the times when I was most concerned with how my experience compared to those around me. When I do this, I put myself in chains. My view of the world is narrow, I am living selfishly, and I am not free to give or to love in abundance.
When we compare our lives to others, life will never appear to be fair. There will always be some people who seem to be ahead of us, and others who are behind us. It’s a futile race on a road that leads to dissatisfaction and resentment.
God is a landowner who pays his wages in love. He is not concerned with how much we can give Him as it relates to our neighbor. He does, of course, want us to share our gifts and live our best. But He is ultimately concerned with our experience and acceptance of His love. We are all – each one of us – loved by God regardless of what we do or who we are, regardless of how much we have or who we know, regardless of how many mistakes we make. God’s love is generous and it knows no bounds. It need only be accepted, never earned. He is a giver. And if we could all find a way to live our lives from this same place of giving, rather than focusing on what we get or how we compare, what a world this could be. I think – possibly – heaven would be here on earth.