Sunflower field over cloudy blue sky and bright sun lights.


BY: Father Anthony O. Ezeaputa, MA

HOMILY THEME: Justice, Envy, and Mercy


In our gospel text (Matthew 20:1–16), Jesus likened the kingdom of heaven to a parable of a landowner who hired laborers at the marketplace at five different hours to work in his vineyard. Parables rely on what we know to speak to us about what we know little or nothing about.

Today’s parable warns against envy, goes against the contractual principle of “to each his due,” and proposes mercy and compassion for the weaker, less fortunate, and poor members of society (Catechism, 1932). In other words, Jesus overturns the commonly held notion of justice as “to each his due” in favor of love and mercy.

Between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., the Palestinian marketplace at the time of Jesus was always a center for those looking for work and those looking to hire laborers. Usually, the more skilled, most fit, and strongest workers were hired before their counterparts, who had fewer skills and seemed weaker. So, by 6 p.m., the only people who would be left at the marketplace would be the rejects.


The crux of the parable is that it is these rejects—those who cannot be employed on their own merit—that this landowner decided to hire at 5 p.m. And not only that, but he also paid them a full-day wage. In effect, the landowner is going against the contractual principle of “to each his due” in favor of compassion and mercy toward the most vulnerable.

The workers who were employed early in the morning, those who had labored a full twelve hours, represent people who assume that God works on a merit system. According to this system, you must earn God’s favor through hard work. God will reward you in direct proportion to your effort. Nothing more, nothing less.

But today’s parable subverts that expectation. God’s indiscriminate and abundant generosity is extended to everybody, even to those rejected and to the outcasts that nobody wants. It is an amazing grace. The kingdom of heaven is a gift.

The standard wage for a day’s work was one denarius, and that is the amount that the workers employed at 6 a.m. agreed upon. It was a fair and just wage. But at the end of the working day, the landowner pays all the workers one denarius, the amount for a full day’s work.

But have the workers who began at 6 a.m. been treated unfairly? The landowner certainly doesn’t think so. They agreed to one denarius, and that is exactly what they received. As the landowner says, “I am not being unjust to you. Have I no right to do what I like on my own? Why should you be envious because I am generous?” (Matthew 20:15).

Take note of what he asks: “Why should you be envious because I am generous?” A literal translation of the Greek text is: “Or is your eye evil because I am good?”

The ancients referred to envy as “the evil eye” because everything it sees incites anger. The “evil eye” consists of selfishness and envy; it is an evil and envious disposition. People with the evil eye feel angry when others who have not worked hard are rewarded.

Oftentimes, we find ourselves comparing the good gifts God has given to us with those given to others. We could also be tempted to consider others less worthy of their gifts.

Jesus wants to know if you’re happy with your brother, sister, spouse, or even colleague for their gifts and talents. Or is your eye evil because of the gifts God has given to your neighbor?

Don’t forget that you are also blessed with many talents. Instead of being envious of your neighbor’s gifts and talents, why not praise God for the gifts he or she has received? Why not invest time and resources in developing your own?

So, in today’s gospel passage (Matthew 20:1–16), the landowner overturns the contractual principle of “to each his due” for love and mercy for the most vulnerable members of society. God loves them and won’t abandon them.

Like the prophet Isaiah (55:9) reminds us, “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.”

Let us pray that our sense of justice may be associated with love and mercy. May it bear a resemblance to the type of love that, as St. Paul says, “is patient and kind,” or a merciful love through Christ our Lord. Amen.