FR. MIKE’S HOMILY OF WEDNESDAY 20TH WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME CYCLE I
THEME: THE KINGDOMOF HEAVEN
BY: Fr. Mike Lagrimas
St. Michael the Archangel Parish
Diocese of Novaliches
HOMILY: Mt 20:1-16
Jesus told His disciples this parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. Going out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.’ So they went off. [And] he went out again around noon, and around three o’clock, and did likewise. Going out about five o’clock, he found others standing around, and said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’ When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’ When those who had started about five o’clock came, each received the usual daily wage. So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage. And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’ He said to one of them in reply, ‘My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? [Or] am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?’ Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Today, the Gospel gives us another parable of the Kingdom. There were laborers who were hired early and worked all day. There were those who worked later, and the last group worked for only an hour or two. Yet, at the end of the day, all the laborers, regardless of how many hours they worked on the field, received a full day’s pay.
Perhaps we may resonate and agree with the first group. They may even have the right to complain. How can it be fair that those who worked for only one hour should receive an equal wage with those who worked for ten hours?
Let us first take the case of the latecomers. At the outset, it must be noted that it is not their fault that they did not come to work earlier. They were idle because there simply was no work available for them. In fact, they were already at the marketplace waiting for somebody to hire them. As the day wore on, each one began to feel despondent: “What will my family eat if I am not hired today?” Finally, just before five o’clock in the afternoon, the landowner returned to the marketplace and hired them. They were so grateful to report for work. They knew they will only get a two-hour wage, but it is better than nothing at all. They never expected to receive more. But to their big surprise and happiness, they still received a full-day’s pay.
On the other hand, those who worked early in the day should be grateful because they were the first to be hired. They were already assured of a full day’s wage as agreed upon with the landowner. And that is what they got. But they were not happy. In fact, they grumbled and protested: “These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.”
There would have been no problem if they were the first to be paid. In that case they would have left ahead and did not see the latecomers receiving equal pay. But the instruction of the master in the parable is clear: “beginning with the last and ending with the first.” In other words, the master wants to make sure that the early workers will see that they all receive equal pay. So, they lost their happiness and they grumbled because those who came late also received the same amount.
Clearly, then, they were envious: “Are you envious because I am generous?” Who are they to question the decision of the master? “What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? [Or] am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?” Being a compassionate master, he is sensitive to the needs and condition of his workers. So he is well aware that if strict justice is applied, their pay will only be for an hour’s work. Definitely, that will not be enough for one family meal. So, he gave them more than they deserve. After all, it is not their fault that they were late in reporting for work: “Because no one has hired us.” The issue here, therefore, is not about justice, for the master gave what is due to the early workers. Rather, it is all about generosity, because he gave the late workers more than what they worked for.
We all should be grateful that God works like the landowner in the parable. His generosity and kindness are boundless. He deals with us with compassion and love. He loves everybody – sinners and saints, Jews and non-Jews, priests and laity – with the same unconditional love.
Let us not be proud and complacent that, since we are Christians, we will be the first to enter heaven. And let us not be surprised and grumble if we see those we think are unworthy will get there ahead of us. Who complains anyway that the first to enter heaven was the “Good Thief” on Calvary, ahead of Abraham, Moses, the prophets and the apostles?
The Lord concludes: “Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Venerable Fulton Sheen says something about this: “I am only certain there will be three surprises in Heaven. First of all, I will see some people whom I never expected to see. Second, there will be a number whom I expected who will not be there. And – even relying on God’s mercy – the biggest surprise of all may be that I will be there.”
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
St. Michael the Archangel Parish
Diocese of Novaliches