Saturday, September 20, 2008

Workers In The Vineyard

(25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, A)

The parable we hear in the gospel today recalls a common image from the whole of the Sacred Scriptures: the people of God, or indeed the whole world, as God’s vineyard. The parable imagines God as the landowner, the world as the vineyard in need of care and cultivation, and us as those whom God hires to do the work.

 So what does this tell us about the kingdom of God, since Jesus tells us that this is what the kingdom is like? First, we know that the kingdom of God requires work; it has to be cultivated and cared for in this world just like the vineyard in the parable. Remember a couple of months ago when we heard the parable of the sower, and we had the image of God as the one who scatters the seeds of the kingdom of God over the earth? Well today’s parable is in part the continuation of that image; the seeds of the kingdom now require our care in they are to grow and flourish.

 We also see in the parable that each of us arrives in the kingdom of God when we are invited—“hired” in the image of the parable—by God. Notice in this the image of God as the one who comes to us, inviting us into the vineyard where we will be given the mission, duty, and privilege of giving ourselves for the cultivation of the kingdom. In the parable the landowner goes out to hire workers several times during the day. We might take this in two ways.

 First, it represents the whole history of salvation, how God, some 130 generations ago first called the family of Abraham to be God’s own people. Then God called the family of Jacob whom God names Israel who became God’s special possession, the Israelites, some of whom later came to be called the Jews after their return from exile in Babylon. Finally, in these last days, God has called all people, through the divine humanity of Christ, to share in the promises made to Abraham, to Jacob, and to David.

 On the other hand, we can look at how the landowner goes out to hire workers at the various times of day as an image of our own individual lives. It’s how at certain special moments of our lives we may feel the presence of God more intensely when God is calling us to a deeper prayer or to doing something that God’s kingdom may require in a special way at that moment. In any case the image of God in the parable is of a God who comes to us, who speaks spiritually to the heart and mind of each, and who is an inviting God, always offering to grace us with the chance to work for his kingdom at the different points of our lives.

 The parable also assures us that if we allow ourselves to be “hired” by God, and if we work diligently to cultivate his kingdom on earth, we will paid a just wage. We will receive our reward from God. But here we come to what is perhaps the most challenging part of the parable. When those who had only worked for only an hour received the full daily wage, the ones who had worked all day thought that they would be getting more. It’s only fair, right? Well, God’s justice is not always the same as our idea of justice. As God says through the prophet Isaiah in the first reading today, “my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways.” This is the generous God who gives the same reward to each one who accepted his invitation to work for the kingdom, regardless of how much work he actually did.

 Perhaps those who had worked harder in the vineyard had a right to grumble, but note that nobody gets ripped off. Everyone receives the wage they were justly entitled to; it’s just that some received more than they deserved. To me, I think that’s where most of us are before God.

No comments: