Is 55:6-9, Mt 20:1-16
One time a mother asked her son why he had performed so poorly in class to the extent of being the last in their class. In response the young man told her mother that he did it intentionally to be the last for that particular term so as to be the first in the following term. He based his argument on Jesus’ final saying in today’s gospel: the last will be first, and the first will be last.
Before we use this quotation to justify some of our failures, we should first know the circumstances in which Jesus mentioned these words and why Matthew uses them quite often in his gospel. Matthew was a Jew and wrote his gospel mainly for fellow Jews who were the first to receive God’s message of salvation, but turned out to be the last in relation to God’s kingdom. They regarded themselves as God’s chosen people, but failed to recognize him in the One he had sent. It was after their rejection of Jesus as Messiah that he turned to the Gentiles – the pagans, who amazingly welcomed Him and his message of salvation. The Gentiles who were regarded as the last or inferior turned out to be the first in welcoming and accepting the Messiah and the good news of salvation. So, today’s gospel reading is not so much about justice, but serves as a defence of Jesus mission among the Gentiles. Like the labourers who worked for just one hour and received the same wages as those who worked throughout the day, the Gentiles were part of God’s plan of salvation right from the beginning.
Dear friends in Christ, we too could fall into the same mistake as the people of Israel or as the earliest labourers in the vineyard. Time and again, we are tempted to think that we deserve a better place in God’s kingdom than anyone else. One may even be tempted to argue that since I have been a practising and faithful Catholic for years and years, therefore at the end of my earthly journey God will reward me more than ‘so and so’ who is a recent convert. Prophet Isaiah has warned us against this kind of false mentality of comparing ourselves with others. He says: God’s thoughts are not our thoughts; his ways are not our ways. God calls each person at the hour and in the way he wishes. Every moment is a right moment to find God who longs to draw all people to Himself. The parable of the master of the vineyard, therefore, teaches us that God is more than just – he is generous. His grace is freely given to all people, and all have an equal status in His kingdom. As the goal of the workers in the vineyard was to earn one denarius at the end of the day, may our common goal be to attain eternal life in the heavenly kingdom.