The epitaph on the tomb of love

20 September 2020 – 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A
Matthew 20:1-16. 

Fernando Armellini SCJ
Claretian Publications Macau

In the parable, the master provokes the anger of the workers of the first hour. We may recall that he had agreed with them a silver coin; with others what will be just, with the last he had not agreed anything. What did the master mean by just? The workers understood him according to their criteria, that he would take account of the merits. The owner instead follows his own justice and distributes his goods in a completely free and open way. He did not wrong anyone; he just decided not to consider the merits. He gave everyone according to his or her needs and, of course, the first to be benefited were the last, the poorest (v. 16). That’s the surprise of God; that is his strange way of conceiving and practicing justice.

The parable is the clearest and provocative denouncement that can be imagined of the religion of merits taught by the spiritual guides of Israel. The rabbis taught: “He who fulfills a precept acquires for himself a lawyer, who commits a transgression acquires for himself a prosecutor. All God’s judgments are based on measure for measure.”  With this parable, Jesus destroyed, forever, this self-righteous way of relating to God. The love of the Lord is never bought, conquered or assessed based on good works. It is received freely and in proportion to the need. God has filled the hungry with good things, but he sent the rich away empty (Lk 1:53). Many “just ones” feel an unacknowledged envy against one who, being converted at the last moment, had the good fortune to “work less”, to enjoy life more. Here is the error: to think that joy consists in being far from God and that faithfulness to his word deserves a prize.

Blessed are the servants who came first in the “vineyard of the Lord.” They surely have also struggled. They have enjoyed “since morning” the presence of the Lord. The workers of the first hour are those who have spent every day of their lives in the intimacy with God and in listening to His Word. The others who presented themselves late at the appointment, who did not let themselves be found when the Lord came to call them. They have lost many opportunities that were offered to them.

Ultimately in the Christian community, no one can think of oneself being superior to others, because no one can consider oneself a veteran because he got converted first, because he practices the gospel more faithfully. No one is master of the “vineyard”; all are workers, all are brothers and sisters.

Translated by Fr. John Ledesma SDB

Abridged by Fr. Jijo Kandamkulathy CMF

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