Matthew 20: 1-16a
Sunday Reflection by Sister Jane Dwyer, SNDdeN
Today´s Gospel is an unsettling experience of the dynamic force of the Good News. This dynamic force when assumed turns our world upside down and around, inside out and back again moving us ever to transformation. After reflecting and trying to live this Gospel, never is life the same; never is there a recipe for following the Gospel. The Gospel is to be lived, to be worn, to be immersed in. Once we begin to understand this, every experience is a new one, every encounter requires a new and different response, and every minute of life is a challenge. A challenge not to simply follow the rules, nor to fulfill the law, and yes to feel and try to understand the meaning of what is really happening in the encounter, in the situation, in the crisis or celebration in which we find ourselves.
Today´s Gospel story is one we all know. It begins with the words, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like”…a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He combines the price of a day´s work with them, the usual daily wage, or in biblical terms, a denarius. The landowner returns to the marketplace at 9am, at noon, and at 3pm. Always he finds men standing around doing nothing. He sends them to work in his vineyard promising to pay whatever is right. The men go to the vineyard. At 5pm the landowner returns to the marketplace and still finds men standing around idle. He asks them: “Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?” The answer is always the same: “Because no one hired us.” The landowner told them to go and work in his vineyard. When evening comes, the owner tells his foreman to call the workers and pay their wages, beginning with the last men hired and ending with the first men hired. From the last to the first, each man was paid one daily wage, a denarius, with no difference from who worked from early morning to who worked only the last hours of the day. And immediately the criticism, grumbling and protests arise: “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” The landowner answers: “I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn´t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I choose to give to these last workers the same as I give to you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous? So the last will be first and the first will be last.”
What makes this Gospel story able to begin saying, “The Kingdom of heaven is like…”like what?
– A land where there is one landowner and many, many unemployed landless farmers who arrive early and throughout the day looking for work? Those who arrive later are lazy? Irresponsible? or laden with family and community burdens that occupy them during the morning and afternoon? Or have they been looking elsewhere for work and finished up in this marketplace? The text doesn´t say. But it does indicate that all except the first group went to work without knowing what they would be paid. Why would a man go to work early or late in the afternoon, not knowing what he would be paid?
-The text tells us that the landowner combined the day´s wage with the first workers. The rest worked in the hope of receiving some payment, one the landowner said would be “right.” When the day´s wages were paid, the landowner complied with the combined day´s wage. He paid the day´s wage to who had been able to work the entire day as well as to those who spent the entire day trying to find work. The understanding of the first workers was that they should have been paid more, as they probably produced more. But it would seem that the criteria for wages wasn´t production. It was survival, family necessities, Life. Or was it the “generosity” of the landowner?
-In his defense to the early workers who protested what they considered injustice, the landowner replied: “Don´t I have a right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?” Parables are a wonderful way to teach and provoke reflection. But they also can be crippling. If Jesus is implying that the landowner represents his Father, in a country filled with land conflicts, where over 50% of the agriculturally productive land is in the hands of 1% of large landholders while 2,3 % of the land is occupied with family agriculture who total 47,8% of the farming population, this parable is a counter testimony. In Brazil, who puts food on the table of almost 80% of the Brazilian people is family agriculture, without government support, without subsidies. These small agricultural communities live in constant threat of losing their lands as the actual Brazilian government creates new laws favoring the large land holders and their illegal right to “private lands” they lost in the courts. A generous landowner is a shadow that covers the profound injustice in which the small Brazilian farmers live and struggle. The land, the money, the rights are not the landowners’. No amount of generosity can justify this kind of control of lands, wages and people.
-In this text and reflection, who will truly be first and who will be last? And in the world in which we live today, filled with the homeless, persecuted and rejected migrants, racial prejudice, intolerance of cultural diversity, children abandoned to sexual abuse, fierce economic competition and violence?
It is not the law, nor organized “justice” that this Gospel reflects. Fulfilling and living by today’s laws is not a way to live the Gospel. Many times civil disobedience is the truly Gospel response to unjust situations. Are we willing to take up the challenge to immerse ourselves in the Gospel challenge? It will turn our world around…and perhaps help turn the whole world into the Kingdom of HEAVEN.
The following true story can perhaps exemplify and illuminate today´s reflection:
One of the men in our communities was entering a supermarket when he met up with a young Indigenous child who was standing by the entrance door with his hand out. The man asked what he wanted. The child said he wanted money to buy candy. The man gave him some change and entered the supermarket. On his way out, having finished his purchases, he found himself again stopped by the same Indigenous child. The child looked at him and returned the change he had given for the child to buy candy. Startled, the young man asked the child: “But why are you returning the money?” The child replied: “When I tried to pay the woman for the candy, she gave the candy to me and would not accept my money. So now I have the candy, I do not need the money. But thank you.”
Mt. 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.”
The Gospel of the Lord