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The fairness of a just God

Fr. Dan Daly, S.J. - published on 08/17/16

Our Lord does not love us more because of our labors

The foreman shook his head in disbelief as he saw the landowner escort two more workers onto the property. It was nearly evening and these two were just getting started. The foreman wrote down their names and hurried them out to the vineyard to help collect the baskets of grapes.

“Where did you find those two?” the foreman asked the owner.

“Sitting in the city square, looking like they just rolled out of bed,” the landowner replied. “I don’t know how their wives put up with them! Those poor fellows can’t even imagine something satisfying to do with their lives.”

“They’ll hardly break a sweat before it’s quitting time. How much do you want to pay them?”

“A denarius, just like everybody else,” the owner instructed.

“They hardly deserve a full day’s pay,” the foreman pointed out.

“You’re right, but they and their families still need to eat.”

“If word gets out about your kindness, we’ll have all sorts of workers looking to join the late afternoon crew.”

“True, but others will arrive bright and early in the morning, even when they know they won’t get paid any more.  And that, my friend, is a marvelous thing!”

Word has gotten out about God’s kindness. Jesus knew it was going to be hard to keep it secret when he started telling stories like this. God has a great big heart and he cares about all his children, even those whose performance leaves something to be desired. We do not need a résumé chock full of good deeds to be part of God’s Kingdom. We just need to say “yes” when God extends the invitation.

This message might be a little discouraging to those of us who try to work hard and live good lives, to be kind, generous and forgiving. We can sympathize with the workers who gathered grapes in the hot sun all day long only to receive the same pay as those who rolled in at 5:00. We might ask ourselves, “What is the point of trying so hard if it does not make any difference?”

Of course, it does make a difference. The early-morning workers gathered lots of grapes during the day, grapes that could be pressed into wine or enjoyed fresh. Without workers to harvest them, the grapes would simply shrivel on the vine.

Our efforts make a difference, too. The world desperately needs love and faithfulness, patience and joy. God delights when we offer such gifts. But he does not love us more because of our labors. No matter how much we do, we still get paid the usual daily wage.

That allows our efforts to be our thanks to God. We recognize that God offers to us far more than we deserve. He has been more than fair, and we are incredibly grateful for it. We happily join the early-morning crew out in the fields, honored to have the opportunity, and delighted to be able to offer to God our small gift in return.

For the Mass readings for August 17, click here. To learn more about the painting of the workers in the vineyard, click here.

Author’s note:  Jesus told us a parable about laborers in a vineyard and invited us to ponder its meaning. In reflecting on the passage I use my imagination to fill in the details.

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