The gospel of Matthew has many insightful passages. In the gospel reading for the twenty-fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Matthew 20: 1-16, Jesus shares the parable of the landowner. This landowner, who owns a vineyard, visits the marketplace at dawn to hire laborers. He returns to the marketplace at 9 a.m., noon, 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to send more idle laborers to his vineyard. At the end of the day, he instructs his foreman to distribute wages starting with individuals who started at 5 p.m. and ending with those who started at dawn.
The laborers who started at 5 p.m., and only worked for an hour, received the same day’s wage as the ones who worked all day. The dawn workers were angry that the landowner rewarded the 5 p.m. workers the same wage. They had done less work and still, they were being made equal to those who’d slaved in the heat. Despite nasty protest, the landowner calmly reiterated the agreement they made before they started working: they agreed to a daily wage.
“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.” – Matthew 20: 13-16
This parable is symbolic. God is the landowner, we are his laborers and daily wage is eternal salvation. The “work” we do in God’s vineyard comes in the form of following him, doing right by him and repenting for our sins. We don’t all start working in God’s vineyard at dawn, but he openly and continuously pursues us. He seeks us out just like the landowner sought out laborers at dawn, 9 a.m., noon, 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. The landowner wanted to provide jobs to those in need, just like God wants to provide eternal salvation to ALL his children.
The other part of this parable focuses on the dawn workers who grumble about receiving the same wage as the ones who started working at 5 p.m. This symbolizes those of us who’ve followed God all our lives. We’ve resisted temptation, confessed the wrong we’ve done and kept him as a priority. Whereas others fell into a pattern of sinful living. So if these people do, at some point, accept God’s invitation to join him in his vineyard, we should be happy more of our brothers and sisters are joining us in Heaven.
Which begs the question: Why would their reward of a daily wage (eternal salvation) upset us in the first place?
It’s simple: we’re human. We get jealous over petty matters. We like being superior to others and recognized for our hard work. It seems unfair that someone who’s made all the wrong decisions can choose to repent, even on their deathbed, and still go to Heaven. But it’s their final act of repentance that makes the difference, no matter their past. To God, it’s one more child who will join him in Heaven.
Now, this doesn’t mean those who are faithful now can start living sinful lives and plan on repenting later to get to Heaven. All we can and should do is continue to work in the vineyard (live faithfully) and extend a loving invitation for others to join us. After all, we should all share the same goal: a daily wage (eternal salvation).