September 20, 2020: Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading: Matthew 20:1-16A
Jesus told his disciples this parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. Going out about nine o’clock the landowner saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.’ So they went off.
And he went out again around noon, and around three o’clock, and did likewise. Going out about five o’clock, the landowner found others standing around, and said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’
When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first. When those who had started about five o’clock came, each received the usual daily wage. So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them got the usual wage. And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowners, saying, ‘These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’
He said to one of them in reply, ‘My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?’ Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
What was it the landowner “saw” in those who had not found work? He wasn’t looking for more laborers; his crew was hired in the first hour. Who were these folks? In Jesus’ time, they would have been all those passed over by other landowners. They were the unwanted; the very poor, outcasts, the weak, those who were different in some way. Folks with no hope of earning enough to feed their families.
What he “saw” was their humanity; their inherent dignity and value. It is this connection that compelled his deliberate and persistent actions throughout the day. It is what led him to pay them first and give them the usual daily wage. Those hired first thought they deserved more money. But was their real complaint that they had been made equal to the least in society, not just equal in wages?
For Jesus, the landowner is a model of how the prosperous should treat the poor. It is also a challenge for us to examine our attitudes about what is fair and our notion of equality.
Who are the workers today? Who is in need of our individual and societal generosity?
This week, visit www.povertyusa.org. It is a website of the U.S. Bishops Conference Catholic Campaign for Human Development. You can explore what life is like at the poverty line, take a Poverty Tour or explore poverty facts. Research the concept of a living wage, the amount a person or family needs to provide basic necessities. Visit the living wage calculator online to find the living wage in your state of city.