The parable in today’s Gospel account is one of the more challenging one’s that Jesus tells. Most people hear it and say that what is taking place is unfair. Why should those who only worked one hour in the vineyard get the same amount of pay as those who worked all day? Yeah, on the surface it does seem unfair. But when we dig beneath the surface we discover a very powerful message.
The eleventh-hour people in the parable were not lazy. They wanted to work but nobody had hired them. Imagine how they felt as the day was drawing to a close. Rejected, useless, hopeless.
The idea that any employer would hire these people at the eleventh hour and pay them a full day’s wage was unthinkable. Yet this is what happened and herein lies the strong point of the parable.
Jesus’ audience knew exactly what he was saying. The vineyard was the Kingdom of God. Those who had been working all day were the Pharisees and the Jews in general. The eleventh-hour people were sinners and the Gentiles.
Jesus was telling them that God was offering the Kingdom to sinners and Gentiles on equal terms with the Jews. The Jews objected vigorously to this idea. They believed that they deserved preferential treatment as the Chosen People. Their line of thinking was that God worked on the merit system and you must earn what you receive.
With this parable, Jesus reminds his disciples and us that there are different rules at work in the Kingdom of God. Everyone is equal in the eyes of God, and everyone is offered the gift of eternal salvation. God’s grace and mercy works in such a way that it doesn’t matter how early or late in life we turn to God; only that we do. And when we turn to God completely, we are welcomed by God with open arms, just like the father welcomed the Prodigal Son.
Once again one of the most powerful examples of this took place on Calvary. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom,” asked the one thief who hung by his side. And Jesus’ reply, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” An eleventh-hour conversion experience, as the thief recognized the Savior and longed to be part of his kingdom.
-Father Dennis, September 20, 2020