Twenty-fifth in Ordinary A 9/18/11
I am fairly sure you are puzzled by the Gospel and sympathize with the laborers who worked the full day and
received no more than the last-minute workers who barely raised a sweat. Something in you, something in all of us, cries out,
“This isn’t fair! Why do we have to endure this gospel and ruin a Sunday, which otherwise is a perfectly beautiful
day?” Let me tell you of an experience I had in the last few weeks that has given me an entry into today’s readings.
The experience I’ve had is this. Recently, I presided at the marriage of a young Catholic couple. In the
course of the rehearsal dinner and the reception, I spoke at length with the father of the groom, who is a distinguished physician
and professor at a well known medical school in the east. His son, the groom, is in residency and, while very busy, works
nothing like the long hours that his father had worked. His father and I talked about the reform in medicine which has led
to a great reduction in the number of hours that resident physicians have to work in hospitals today. The father even now
works 60 to 70 hours per day and in his residence, before the reform, used to work days on end with only brief respites.
In some ways, the father reflected, things are better. Residents could get so exhausted that they lost their
concentration and focus. But they kept track of their patients! A patient admitted at 4 PM, who today would be handed over
at 6 PM to a second doctor who did not know him, would in the old system, be looked after by the physician who admitted him.
As we talked, I could see a certain amount of resentment in the doctor. He had gone through the tough regimen. Why shouldn’t
his son go through it too?
I felt a kinship with him, and you probably would as well. You probably can transpose his experience to other areas of life. Many of the adults here
lived in a less affluent period than our children. We probably do not take for granted the privileges our children and young
people generally take completely for granted. And so we are right up there with the workers who came first to the vineyard.
“When those who had started about five o’clock came, each receive the usual daily wage. So when the first came,
they thought they would receive more, but each of them go the usual wage. And on receiving it, they grumbled against the landowner.
Our experience puts us into a position to be shocked–and taught. The best title for what is usually called the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard is “The Generous Landowner.”
The details of the parable reflect the economics of the time. The denarius. was the basic day’s wage. As the workers
are paid, we share the expectations of the early workers that they will receive more. They’ve borne the heat of the
day. The landowner’s answer makes us think twice about justice. Is justice simply getting what is due? But the latecomers
have families to support too. Does the landowner’s generosity, “a living wage,” do we have a right to complain?
The parable reveals a God desirous to be as generous as possible with the gift of salvation. In the long run,
God gives salvation as an unmerited free gift. Whether human beings have “worked” long or little for it is not
This parable made me think of the prophet Jonah who was called by God to preach repentance and salvation to
Israel’s greatest enemy of the eighth century BCE–the Assyrian Empire.
He refused to go because it might mean the salvation rather than punishment of Assyria. He finally was forced to go, and when he sulked over the conversions of
the Assyrians, he heard God rebuke him for his pettiness and remind him that the Assyrians were dear to God.
As the reading from Isaiah shows, God’s ways are not our ways, but God’s kindness is lavished equally
Let us end with the prayer that we welcome God’s mercy toward others, even as we hope to receive it for