God's Shocking Generosity

The Nazareth Page - A gospel thought for the home Wheat_field.jpg

- Dr. David M. Thomas

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Matt. 20:1-16a

Equal pay for equal work. That’s the way it should be, It’s a matter of justice. It’s a principle that is part of Catholic social teaching. Unfortunately, sometimes women receive less than men, immigrants less than citizens. Years ago, I came upon a print-out of the salaries of various professors at the school where I taught. I wished I had not seen it because I learned that some of my co-professors were receiving much more salary than I was. Some of them even taught fewer classes and students. A seeming matter of inequality became quite difficult for me to accept.

That’s why today’s gospel is often difficult to understand. Some workers labored all day in the landowner’s vineyard in the hot sun while some worked but an hour or so. And they all received the same wage. In other words, equal pay for unequal work. We wonder, “What’s going on?”

First, let’s admit that this is the least-liked parable in the gospels. Some might wonder why Jesus, who is usually in top form, communicates a parable that seems, on the surface, at least, ridiculous. Or unjust. If we focus only on it from the standpoint of the workers who worked the whole day or on simple economics, we would be at best confused, or worse, disturbed.

Here’s the way some scripture scholars work their way out of this dilemma. They say that we should place our focus on the landowner, who represents God. This focus allows us to simply attend to the attitude or motivation of God, which is one of generous love to each and all of us. This interpretation of God can be difficult for those who make the false assumption that God has favorites. God doesn’t.

We think about accomplished artists, brilliant scientists, outstanding athletes, talented performers and celebrities and draw a totally false, and even dangerous conclusion that those people are more blessed, and therefore, more loved by God. They aren’t. They are loved by God, but no more than anyone is.

So, making comparisons between ourselves and others regarding God’s blessings is a toxic act. It breeds envy and jealousy. It can cause us to overlook or diminish the blessings each of us has received. Put another way, it can be depressing. Recall when the disciples argued about who was first in God’s Kingdom. They were each hoping it was them. Imagine their response when Jesus said that whoever was last was first. Comparisons among individuals can even infiltrate families. Good parents don’t have favorites. Nor does God.

©David Thomas, PhD, Used by permission

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