September 24, 2023
Matthew 20: 1-16a
RELATIONSHIPS: MINDING AND RESPONDING
The Gospel of Matthew 20:1-16a presents Jesus as a traveling rabbi and a healing storyteller who publicly shares his intimate experience of God as his loving Abba. After his public baptism by John the Baptist, Jesus uses stories and ideas to reveal his personal relationship with God. He rests in this experience even as now he approaches his last journey to Jerusalem.
At his baptism Jesus hears Abba name him “My Beloved Son.” Minding this relationship inspires his life and mission for others. So, with no reservations, Jesus publicly proclaims the holy Abba as compassionate and just, free of prejudice and absolutely loving. Jesus accepts that his mission as beloved includes being the good news (especially for the poor) and proclaiming that no one (even the poorest) is outside of God’s love.
“For Heaven’s imperial rule is like a proprietor who went first thing in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the workers for a silver coin a day he sent them into his vineyard.” And he keeps inviting others throughout the day with the promise to pay them at the end of the day whatever is fair.” However, when he chooses to reward all his workers with the same single silver coin, no matter their starting hour, grumbling occurs. The manager explains that his grace does not depend on his workers’ perceptions: it is his field and his to decide wages.
The interaction between the proprietor and his day laborers begins and ends with the proverb: “The last will be the first and the first last.” Why are bookends around the scene? The proverb invites us to a reflective moment with Jesus about his choice of this story – we certainly see the vintner and his interaction with his casual laborers. We may go deeper into the vineyard of our own lives and mission: only the loving Abba fully knows the human heart. Just as communion with Abba prompts Jesus in his life choices, we too can respond in our lives: Abba is in our human lives just as he was with Jesus: compassionate and just, free of prejudice and loving. Come Holy Spirit: Open our minds and hearts to experience how this story fits us in our relationship with Jesus and his mission to love.
1. JEWISH COMMUNITY In the Gospel of Matthew the writer structures his literary format like the five books of The Torah. He writes mainly to Jewish listeners who accept the vineyard as one place where Yahweh relates to his people. Since Israel is largely agricultural, the average person also knows the business of wine making. In Jesus’ time one silver coin is the typical wage of a day laborer. Disciples follow Jesus in the contemporary manner of learning from a traveling rabbi.
2. KINGDOM OF HEAVEN Today’s world is no longer filled with kingdoms so some scholars try synonyms for the concept, i.e., Heaven’s imperial rule. Since Jesus spent his life in a small, conquered province of the Roman Empire, kingdom taps more into Jewish religious memories than the current reality.
3. ABBA Jesus receives his mission from Yahvew
3. APPROACH I used St. Ignatius’ method of inviting imagination to be open to contemplation.
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 also got the usual wage.
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.’
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.”
Meet Sister Barbara Thiella, SNDdeN