Parable are effective because they speak a truth that extends beyond the details of the story itself. In today’s Gospel from St. Matthew, Jesus tells the parable of the landowner who hires workers for his vineyard.
The Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus says, can be likened to a landowner who hires workers for his vineyard. Some get hired at dawn, others at mid-morning, others at noon, others at mid-afternoon and still more near the end of the work day. When it comes time for the workers to get paid, everyone get paid a full day’s wages. Not surprisingly, those hired at dawn find this unacceptable and complain that they deserve more than those who worked far fewer hours. They can’t dispute that they are not being cheated in a legal sense: they were promised the usual daily wage for their work and were paid what they were promised. But it just doesn’t seem right to them. It offends their sense of justice.
Often Gospel values and ours are not the same. God gives all always and doesn’t measure out his mercy and love based on our evaluations of merit. We put an overemphasis on justice, always worried that (other) people might be getting more than they deserve. God just gives. AND invites us to do the same. To give – really, to love – without an evaluation of the other’s desert.
We also tend to judge by comparison. The workers who worked all day were satisfied with what they got until they saw what the others receive. I think we often do the same: My gift is a precious wonderful gift and I love it and am grateful for it – until I look around and sense that someone got something more or better than I did. Somehow the value of what I have is diminished in my eyes.
It is hard to live in accordance with the values promoted by Jesus. But that is what we are called to. Generosity and mercy unconstrained by comparison and determinations of desert.