Readings (Year A):
Reflection: The mercy of God elevates justice
“I just can’t digest this.”
This was the reaction of a religious sister, once, in reference to the gospel parable of the vineyard and its laborers who were paid the same. And I am sure many Christians feel the same about this parable that is the focus of our meditation today. That the vineyard owner paid the workers who clocked in at different times the same wages sounds like an insult to intelligence—wholly unjust, unfair.
But is it really?
Perhaps it is unjust and unfair according to the human scale that values people in terms of productivity, not as persons worthy of respect. But God operates at a different level. For God says, as we heard in the first reading from the book of Isaiah: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.” The responsorial psalm underscores it further: “The Lord is just in all his ways and holy in all his works.”
So, how do we understand this justice of God that triumphs over our pettiness and envy? Let us look at this parable this way: You need workers for your farm. You go out to Home Depot looking for laborers. Sure enough, there are a bunch of men standing by, looking for a day’s work. Whom do you pick? The younger, the sturdier, the healthier. The older, the weaker, the sickly, and the handicapped are often left behind.
But they also need a job. They also have families to feed. But no one picks them, and they stand there for hours. But the owner of the vineyard in Jesus’ parable would still pick them. Even if it is for one hour, he offers them the dignity of labor. When pay time comes, they must be paid first, for, being weaker and older, they might need more time to walk home. And they are paid a day’s wage. Whether it was their fault or not that they were not picked early, they also have a family to care for, mouths to feed. The younger, the sturdier, the healthier, can wait a bit longer. And of course, they are paid as was promised. The owner acts justly to the earlier laborers; and he acts with mercy, going beyond justice, to the later ones.
The parable speaks of the mercy of God that does not negate justice, but elevates it. St. Paul invites us today to “conduct ourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ.” This alone is the way worthy of the gospel of Christ: to delight in the blessings of others and do as the owner of the vineyard did, completing justice with mercy in our dealings with fellow children of God.
Biblical scholars understand this parable as a reference to the gentiles, who received the gospel much later than the Jews, but were still placed on equal footing with the Jews who were called earlier to be people of God.
God’s generous favors to others will never deprive us of what is rightfully ours. And if I feel troubled by God’s generosity towards others, perhaps I have a long way to go in growing into the image and likeness of God. So today, we shall pray for a generous heart that is worthy of the gospel of Christ.