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A Day’s Wages

The Gospel parable that we read today is very difficult for people of the Western World to comprehend and understand. In our world, the individual is expected to seek work, to engage in as many interviews as possible until he finds a job. We expect that he will negotiate with his employer a wage that both of them find acceptable.

The Middle Eastern situation at the time of Jesus was just the opposite. Laborers waited for employers to seek them out. They gathered in the town square until a landowner or merchant came looking for workers. There was no negotiation with respect to wages. The ordinary and customary day's wage was paid to each worker.

There were no labor unions to protect the rights of workers or to standardize wages.

So when the owner of the vineyard realized that his grapes were ripe and ready for harvesting, he sought out the needed laborers for the task and promised to pay them the customary wage. Several times that day he visited the town square and each time found workers waiting to be hired. At the end of the day, he gave each worker the customary day's wage. This disappointed those who had been working all day long because they had the illusion that they would receive more or that those who came late would receive less.

However, this parable is not about workers and their labor. This parable is about the owner of the vineyard and his generosity. He does not pay according to the amount of work done. He pays out of his generous nature. The workers did not "earn" their wages. The wages were given to them regardless of their work.

The parable has powerful message for those who still think of "earning" a way into heaven. The gift of eternal life is not something that we can earn or something that we deserve. It is a free and generous gift that God gives to us regardless of how much we have done, how many prayers we have offered, how many times we have celebrated the Eucharist, how many good deeds we have done. The natural tendency of human beings is to count and weigh. God is totally other. God simply gives out of God's generous nature. To those who believe, life eternal is God's free and unconditional gift. God is not interested in how much we produce. God only wants our faith in Jesus and in the love with which we are blessed.

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