Workers in the Vineyard

09-24-2017This Week in Vidi DominumFr. Will Schmid

Today’s Gospel (John 20:1-16), “The Workers in the Vineyard,” is one of the most difficult passages in all of Scripture to understand. For many of us, we fail to see the truth, goodness, and beauty that Jesus is trying to convey with this challenging parable. Most of the time, we fail to understand this Gospel because we approach it from the perspective of the kingdom of man, rather than the kingdom of God. From the perspective of the kingdom of man, Jesus presents an unjust landowner who rewards laborers who are lazy and work less, rather than providing greater compensation for those who start early and work all day.

However, we must remember that this is not a parable of a worldly kingdom, but of a Heavenly Kingdom. In order to properly understand this parable, there are a few details that must be established: (1) the landowner is not a man, but God Himself, (2) the work in the vineyard is not human labor, but the divine work of proclaiming the Gospel, and (3) the payment is not worldly money, but salvation in Christ. Once these details are established, the parable takes on a whole new meaning.

As human beings, we cannot enter into the work of God without first receiving a divine invitation from Him. Sharing in his work is not a human right, but a free gift given to us from God the Father for no other reason than He loves us and wants us to share in His own divine love. In fact, the work of His vineyard isn’t even something we can do by ourselves. Rather, it is something that God does in us through His Son, Jesus Christ. The work of proclaiming the Gospel is primarily a work of Jesus that we are invited to share through Him, with Him, and in Him.  

In addition, the payment of salvation is not something we can earn by our own merits, nor can it be perceived in a quantitative manner. Salvation is the total fulfillment of the human person in their eternal union with God. This union transcends the worldly pleasure that material things could ever provide for us. No amount of money could ever compare to the peace, love, and joy received from a friendship with the living God.

In this way, God the landowner is not unjust, but extremely generous. He offers us a share in His work and the payment of salvation no matter where we find ourselves in this life. From this perspective, this parable isn’t really about the workers at all, it’s about the goodness of the landowner.

This is why we should regularly offers prayers of gratitude to God for the many blessings in our life. A regular spirit of gratitude attunes our hearts to God’s generosity and keeps us from becoming bitter like the servants in the Gospel. When our hearts are filled with pride it is easy to distort the truth of the situation around us. For example, some of the workers in the parable grumble about how much work they did, failing to see that the hardest working person in the parable is the landowner himself. He was working long before they entered into the vineyard and he was working long after they were finished. 

In addition, these same workers also grumble about how those who worked less were paid the same amount. They are angry because the landowner, in his generosity, has made them all equal. These workers fail to see that the gifts the landowner bestows on others in no way removes or deprives them of the gifts he has already given them. The same is true for us. What does it say about my soul when the goodness of another wounds me? When the good deed of another and the reward they receive drives me to anger or despair?

Also, the grumbling of the workers begs the question: Is it the landowner who is unjust because he has generously offered to treat all the workers with equality, or, rather, is it the grumbling workers who are unjust, who now selfishly desire to change the terms of the agreement after the fact?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, God is very generous to us. He gifts us with the privilege of sharing in the work of His Son, Jesus Christ, a work that brings great peace and fulfillment when it isn’t tainted by the sin of pride. We are unworthy of participating in such a noble work, but Christ makes us worthy, and the reward for this work is eternal life with Him. Let us rejoice at the opportunity to be workers in His vineyard, and let us pray that others will accept His invitation to share in the work of His Son, Jesus Christ. Let us not be angry or jealous when God blesses another with a spiritual gift.