25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Matthew 20:1-16a
And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner 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.”
As we hear the Savior’s parable in today’s Gospel, we might have a tendency to sympathize with the complaints of those workers who labored for whole day and yet received only the same payment as those who came in the final hour. Something within us says, “Well, if that’s the case, why work for the whole day? It would be better to just wait till the last minute and make a deathbed conversion!”
This is obviously not the way that we are supposed to think! The Lord is challenging us with this parable. He is trying to help us to see things from a different perspective.
When we consider this parable we generally tend to interpret it according to a much more personal model: We think of the various hours of the day as symbolizing the various ages of human life.
According to this interpretation, the laborers who came at dawn would be the cradle-Catholics while those who came at the end of the day would be the sinners who have a great death-bed conversion.
If we think of the parable in this way, then the message of our Lord is to tell us that there is only one task which we simply must accomplish in this life. Beyond all else, the one objective of our life on earth must be to die in the state of grace. If we die in the state of grace, our life is a great and even an heroic success. If we die in mortal sin, then our life has been a terrible terrible failure.
And yet, we also know that the best way to die in the state of grace, is to live in the state of grace! In any case, a Christian life is far more fulfilling and joyful than a materialistic life which searches only after worldly gains and vain delights.
The simple truth is that laboring in the Lord’s vineyard is its own reward. It is far better to spend our life in union with Christ, than to be separated from him. Far better to live out our days in the grace of Jesus, than to stand idle in the marketplace!
However, there is another meaning to this parable: The hours of the day and the various laborers represent the ages of the history of salvation. When Jesus spoke this parable, the original message had much more to do with this interpretation of the ages of salvation history.
The parable of the laborers in the vineyard is really all about the relationship between the Jews (who had been called first) and the Gentiles (who were called last). The workers who came at dawn and through till noon represent Adam and Abel, Abraham and Moses, Elijah and all the prophets. Those who came at 3 o’clock in the afternoon are, perhaps, John the Baptist, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Apostles. Finally, those who come at 5 o’clock, at the very end of the history of salvation, in the final hours, these are the Gentile Christians who have been converted through the preaching of the Apostles.
The eleventh hour is the time of the Church, it is the time which we are now in! All of us, we are those laborers who come at the very end of the day.
Now this is the meaning of the parable: If we follow Christ, we will receive the same reward which was promised to Adam, to Abraham, to Moses and to the prophets. Indeed, if we are faithful, we will be included in the same Church which was founded upon the Apostles – we will even share in the glory which has been given to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
How encouraging the parable is for us when we read it in this perspective!
And this is Christ’s point: We are to recognize how generous and gracious God is in giving us the gift of time. Time is a most precious gift! Time gives us the opportunity either to convert from sin and to follow God or, if we have already begun our spiritual journey, to strive forward in grace and to merit greater glory in heaven.
What a gift time truly is! And yet, how often do we squander this gift! Far too often we say that we are just “passing the time”, or we “kill time”. What ingratitude!
St. Alphonsus Liguori makes use of a helpful analogy. He has us imagine that we are in a bank and that the owner of the bank has opened the vault which is filled with money. The bank-owner tells us that we can have however much money we are able to count in one hour.
Now, what would we do? Would we simply sit back, idle, “killing time”? No! Of course not! We would rush into the vault and start counting the money as quickly as possible. Why, we would have so much zeal and energy!
And, it tell you truly, we wouldn’t waste our time on the little bills (the ones and the fives); no, we would rush for the hundreds and the other big bills! J
If only we would make the same good use of the time which God has given us earth. Here we are, with so much time – time to make acts of charity and to store up a greater treasure in heaven. These acts of charity, whether great or small, will be of great value if only we do them all with great love!
Why then do we waste our time holding on to grudges and anger? What good does it do? Nothing!
How generous God has been! He has given us time!
Remember, the history of the world did not have to continue to today. The Savior could have come to judge the world one hundred years ago, and then none of us would have even been conceived, none of us would have existed.
You and I, we did not have to exist; but God, in his love and generous mercy, willed that there should be time in history for all of us to come into existence.
This time given us on earth is the great gift of the opportunity to come to eternity with Christ, in life everlasting.