Commentary on Matthew 20:1-16
Today we have another parable of the Kingdom. And it is not unrelated to the previous story of the rich man. At a first reading we might be strongly inclined to side with the grumblers in the parable. After all, it did not seem at all fair that those who only worked for one hour should get exactly the same as those who had worked from early in the morning and through the heat of the day.
Even though all had agreed to work for a stipulated amount, still in all fairness and decency, one feels that the early comers should have been given more or the latecomers less. However, if we find ourselves talking like this then it shows that our thoughts are human thoughts and not God’s. A little further reflection will make us feel grateful that God works like the employer in the vineyard.
The story seems, as often happens in the Gospel, to reflect the situation of the early Church. The first Christians were all Jews. Before their conversion they had been trying to live according to the requirements of their Jewish faith. They belonged to a people who had thousands of years of religious history, they were God’s own people. Then Gentiles began to be admitted into the community. Some of these people probably came from totally pagan environments. They may have lived very immoral lives and yet, once accepted and baptised, they enjoyed all the privileges of the community. Somehow, it did not seem right.
But this is the justice of God which we need to learn. He gives his love, all of his love, to every person without exception who opens himself to it. It does not matter whether that happens early or late. One reason for that is that that love can never be earned, only accepted. And, as the previous story indicated, the genuine needs of all should be met. The fact that the latecomers were only employed at the last hour does not make their needs any less than those who came earlier. God’s justice is measured by our needs not by mathematical divisions.
What each of the workers received was a symbol of the love of God, who is the vineyard owner. All – early arrivals and latecomers – got exactly the same, the love of their Master and Lord. There are not various degrees of that love. It is always 100 percent. God is Love; he cannot not love and he cannot not love totally. He cannot and will not give more of that love to one than another.
This is indeed something we should be grateful for. Because it can happen – perhaps it has already happened – that I move away from God and his love. I may move very far. But I know that at whatever time I turn back to him, be it at the 11th hour, he is waiting with open arms.
Thank heavens for the justice of God!