Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator
For the vast majority of Americans, earning a living is something we take for granted. Somehow or another, we realize that our well-being is a matter of working and earning a wage so that we can pay for the necessaries of life. When unemployment rates begin to rise, we are all aware of the tenuous nature of this relationship.
The parable we hear in today's Gospel reading seems to contradict the reality of the need to work for a living. Of course, the interpretation of the parable points us toward something much more complex than simply earning a wage. I am sure that we have all heard that the parable was meant to reveal the nature of God's offer of salvation and eternal life. God, like the landowner, rewards all people of faith with eternal life. This is, undoubtedly, the primary lesson behind the parable.
There might be, however, at least two subsidiary lessons that the parable teaches us. The first has to do with the nature of salvation; namely, salvation is a gift, not something we earn. God is the One who saves. Salvation is not dependent upon anything we do. Salvation comes from God. Perhaps our inability to completely accept this notion is what makes the parable difficult for us. Because almost all people have to earn what they have in life, it is difficult for us to accept that salvation is a gift. We earn our college degrees and high school diplomas by studying. We earn our salaries and wages by plying our trades or doing our jobs. Athletes earn their medals and accolades by practicing and preparing for the contest. Celebrities earn the respect of the public by virtue of their performances. However, when it comes to salvation and eternal life, all who believe receive the same gift.
The second lesson that we can learn from this parable is the nature of jealousy and envy. The workers who are angry about the fact that all of them are paid the same wage regardless of how long they work are motivated by jealousy and anger, among other things. They are envious of the fact that someone seems to have been treated better than they. Jealousy springs from the notion that there is just so much of every quantity. It follows, therefore, that if someone gets more than they deserve, then I am short changed. Our sense of justice is offended, but we are also motivated in this notion by our own greed. The fact of the matter is that when we speak of God's love, God's providential care, there is more than enough for everyone to have all they need and want.
God's love for us is an unconditional gift. As we gradually learn to love without limit, this particular parable will become clearer. In order to do that we have to accept the fact that God's love is not dependent upon us; it is all about God.