In His infinite goodness and abundant love, God has created us and summons each of us to Himself. This is the most basic concept of our faith: that God wants us and desires a relationship with us and places within our hearts a longing for communion with Him. There is an ache deep within our souls – we hunger for the Truth and desire fulfillment in the Infinite. The Prophet Isaiah and St. Paul speak to this in the first and second reading this weekend. Isaiah implores us to seek the Lord and cast off our wicked ways. Paul explains the struggle he faces with being attracted to the world despite his love of the Lord. What will it take to truly step away from a scoundrel’s ways? What must we do to depart this life and be with Christ? How do we answer the call to relationship with Christ and be fulfilled by Him alone?
The answer is found in this Sunday’s Gospel: we must be generous.
The parable of the workers in the vineyard from the 20th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew illustrates an important concept we often forget. At the beginning of the day, a landowner hires some workers to tend to his vineyard. They agree upon a day’s wages for their work and the laborers set out to do their jobs. A few hours pass and another group of laborers are hired, then another group, and then another. More and more men are sent out to the vineyard, all being promised payment for the work they have done. In Palestinian times, day laborers often didn’t have steady work or steady income. They were hired hands brought on one day at a time. There could be days, weeks even, with no work and no money, leaving their families hungry and their egos bruised. For this landowner to hire so many men, all throughout the day, was an incredibly generous thing to do. That he would then pay them all a full day’s wage, even the ones who only worked one hour, was an even kinder act.
The shocking part of this parable is how the laborers react to the situation at hand. Each worker is paid the agreed upon amount. The landowner is honest and fair, holding up his end of the agreement. However, the workers hired first complain because the workers hired last are given the exact same wage, despite a significant difference in the amount of time worked. Why aren’t the first hired workers being paid more? Clearly this landowner is unaware of the mistake he’s made! Shouldn’t those who worked a full day be paid more than those who only worked one hour? Rather than recognizing the abundant generosity of the landowner, and being grateful for the money they’ve earned, the first group of laborers is jealous of the last group. They take no pride in the honest work they’ve done and the honest wage they’ve been paid. Instead, they compare themselves to the people around them. There is no gratitude for what they’ve been given, just jealousy of what others have.
If we are called to a personal and intimate relationship with Christ, as Isaiah and Paul show us in the first two readings, then we have to make an effort to change our ways and follow this Christ. The change must be internal – a shifting of our attitude with God, ourselves, and others. If we want to cast off the world and enter into the relationship with Jesus to which we are called, there can be no jealousy or pettiness in our hearts. The laborers hired at dawn are comparing themselves to the laborers hired at 5 o’clock. They don’t recognize the good work they have done or the good reward they’ve been given. Instead, they look at what someone else has done and question what reward was given to them, and then question themselves, the landowner, and everyone else. They do not appreciate the generosity shown them and others.
How often do we do the same with our generous savior, Jesus Christ?
How often in our lives do we envy another person’s prayer life or wish we had their abundant faith? How many times have we gossiped about a person who has returned to the faith after living a sinful life? How frequently have we set ourselves up for failure by simply comparing our own relationship with Christ to someone else’s rather than fully experiencing the uniqueness of the one we have with Him?
Jesus is the generous landowner and we are the workers in the vineyard. He calls us each to put forth great effort and then rewards us with communion with Himself in Heaven. There is no room in the Kingdom of Heaven for comparison or jealousy, for pettiness, pride, or greed. The members of the Church – we, the workers in the vineyard – should never doubt, question, or wonder how or why Jesus is generous, but just know that He is! Jesus Christ not only gives us life, but then provides us hope after the fall of humanity, gives redemption in His Cross, and then gives us the chance to be with Him eternally in Heaven.
As we journey in this life, and try to fulfill the longing in our hearts for communion with God, we are called to give as Jesus gives: give ourselves back to our Creator, give of our time, energy, and talent in service to His Church, and give our love and kindness to one another. The abundant generosity of Jesus Christ is not meant to be questioned, but instead is meant to be appreciated, experienced, and imitated.