The Warning to Each of Us

Father Orly Sapuay, M.S

Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time,
September 18 2011

The first part of the 20th chapter of Matthew records another story that Jesus told, this time about the wages paid to the workers in the vineyard. It clearly is about serving the Master, or working in the kingdom, but the twist here is that many of those who worked in the vineyard did not think that the wages were fairly paid. The story follows logically the ideas concerning wealth and the kingdom of heaven, that is, following the Lord and the cost of that discipleship.. God’s economy of grace is not the same as the natural order people expect.

We have here a story without any additional teaching. The statements of the landowner in the story therefore form the teaching that the Lord wanted to make. After all, the landowner does represent the Lord.

The story could be divided into two or three parts for the organized study. I have chosen three parts: the basic story of the hiring agreement, the twist in the story when the workers were all paid the same thing, and the landowner’s explanation of what he was doing .

The passage is uncomplicated. There is no citation from an Old Testament prophetic passage to be dealt with. There is no miracle in the story that has to be explained. There are no heavy theological expressions or terms that have to be studied. And there is no real sin in the story that has to be confronted–perhaps a mild complaint and dissatisfaction by the workers. What we are left with is a fairly simple story with a twist to it, and a lesson made out of the event.

In order for the story to work, the imagery has to be clarified. The landowner clearly represents the Lord, and the vineyard represents his kingdom. These two motifs have been used elsewhere in Jesus’ teaching with these meanings. There is no reason to ask what kind of work they were supposed to do, because that is not the main thrust of the text. But what is important is the apparent inequity in the pay scale.

The story unfolds as the day progressed. The landowner wants to hire some men to work for him. He simply goes to the place where he could find such labor–the local labor pool. Even to this day men stand around these areas in the hopes that they will be picked up and given a day job. And in our story the landowner made several runs at the marketplace, perhaps because the work apparently proved too much for the first two who were hired, or perhaps because the day was spent and the work needed to be done–we cannot tell.

But we can already anticipate where this story might be going. As time progresses, the Lord goes looking for more and then even more people to come and work in his vineyard–with the promise of a fair wage. In the Bible, working in the vineyard is a fairly solid image of serving in the Lord’s kingdom. The emphasis on wages in the outworking of the event means that this story is primarily about God’s gifts, or rewards, for faithful service. But the length of service and the amount of work does not determine what the reward is.

After the day came to an end, the landowner called his manager to pay the workers. But to everyone’s surprise, he first paid the workers who came last, and who probably worked an hour or two. They received the pay for a full day’s work. This led the other workers to think that they would get more, because they had been there all day. But they were wrong–they all received the same thing, a full day’s wages. This landowner was certainly unconventional.

Quite understandably, the workers who had been there all day complained to the landowner. They thought it was unfair that the men who worked only a little should get as much as they. Most workers would think the same thing. But the landowner simply had to remind them of the facts of the case, and that ended the discussion.

In response to the complaint the landowner simply had to remind the workers of a few important points. He paid the early workers exactly what He promised, what they agreed to. So they had no reason to complain. And since He was the landowner, he was free to offer the other workers what He thought was fair if they would come and work as well. And finally, He told the workers to take their wage and go. There was no chance of their changing His mind; and nothing good would come out of their wanting more than the later workers, for there was no law that said he had to pay everyone proportionately.

The final point of the story says that the last will be first and the first will be last, a statement made elsewhere in the Gospel. At the least this statement says that the Lord cannot be held to social convention or custom in the way that He rewards people; but it certainly also says that His pact with each group is fair–and generous since without it they would have nothing. In other words, it is by grace that He rewards the workers, just as it was by grace He offered them the opportunity to work in His vineyard.

How the Lord treats all of His servants is by grace. Until the workers were approached by the landowner, they had no work. If He had not found them and arranged for them to enter his vineyard, they would have remained with nothing. No one can complain that such a gracious provision is unfair–unless they think that everything must be based in a legal arrangement. Everyone should be thankful that God opened up the opportunity for service.

The warning to each of us is not to be proud of what we have done and expect more than those whom we think have done less. After all, if we have done more, or done it longer, it is only because by His grace He made the opportunity available earlier for us. The word here drives us back to the instruction that whether He gives us a whole day, or just an hour, we must serve Him faithfully and trust that we will enter into the reward that He has in store for those who are faithful. That God chose any one of us for His vineyard is amazing. We should rejoice in that, and rejoice in the fact that He is still inviting otherwise “unemployed” folks to join. Our reward is not just what we receive but what we become as faithful servants of the Lord.

A Digest of Articles from Catholic Blogs and Websites
September 18, 2011

The Generosity of God

“But that’s not fair!” Most parents have heard this phrase umpteen times. The notion of fairness also known as justice, is built into us. It makes us aware that each of us has certain rights that need to be respected.


The Sole Question

Bottom line: The sole question, whether they had worked in the vineyard. First they must be in the vineyard, then they must work in it.

We just heard the parable of the vineyard workers: Some start early in the morning, others at midday and a few right before sunset – what they use to call the “eleventh hour.” In the end they all get the same wage. What does this mean? The great nineteenth century thinker, Blessed John Henry Newman, went to the heart of the parable. Here is what he said about the vineyard workers:


The Warning to Each of Us

The first part of the 20th chapter of Matthew records another story that Jesus told, this time about the wages paid to the workers in the vineyard. It clearly is about serving the Master, or working in the kingdom, but the twist here is that many of those who worked in the vineyard did not think that the wages were fairly paid. The story follows logically the ideas concerning wealth and the kingdom of heaven, that is, following the Lord and the cost of that discipleship.. God’s economy of grace is not the same as the natural order people expect.


God’s nature is to be extravagantly generous

At dawn and throughout the day, the owner of a vineyard hires workers. They reach an agreement about wages; and the workers go out into the vineyard to do the work. About five o’clock, merely one hour before the end of the workday, the owner hires the last workers. To the surprise of all, he gives the last ones hired a full-day’s wage. Those hired first think they will receive more, and grumble when they are paid the agreed-upon wage. The owner of the vineyard responds: “Are you envious because I am generous?”


25th Sunday: Are you, Am I, Good Enough?

I came upon an interesting story this week about the building of the suspension bridge across the Niagra River right next to Niagra Falls. The very first bridge to link Canada and the U.S. over the falls was a footbridge built in 1848. The engineers knew that for them to build the suspension bridge they had to find a way to string a huge steel cable across the chasm. But the water was treacherous. They could not do it by boat. This was 1848, so they couldn’t do it by airplane either. How could they get this huge cable across? The story goes that a 10 year old boy solved their problem.


Why the Pope has to be Infallible, Part 1

In response to my post from last Sunday’s readings, Emil Anton has made some interesting interventions in the comments raising issues about papal infallibility. So I though it might be pertinent to walk through the steps that lead to papal infallibility—at least, the ones I find convincing.


The Five Faces of Christ

How do you know it’s Jesus?

There are dozens of religious experiences out there to be enjoyed. It’s a buyer’s market, and in this age of commercialism the hucksters of religion are pretty good at slapping together a neat religious experience. In the mega churches you can get a whizz bang combination of light rock music, hologram sermons from the mega preacher, a touch of self help philosophy, donuts, coffee, cool child care, and a dash of feel good inspiration.


By Grace Alone: An Introduction to Catholic Theology

This school year, while on sabbatical, I am teaching an introductory course to Catholic theology for the Hillsdale College community; I’m teaching the course every Sunday afternoon at our parish, St. Anthony’s RC Parish (with the excellent Father Jeff Njus as pastor).


Our Lady’s Sorrows – and Graces

The Gospel of St. Luke tells us several times (in chapter 2 alone) how much Mary had to keep in her heart. At the joy of the Nativity, she treasured what the shepherds came to say, and pondered it all in her heart. At the joy of finding Jesus in the temple (after the anguish of being separated from Him – which we all experience through sin), she kept His words and actions in her heart, even if she did not understand everything He was doing.


Mary and the Liturgy

Unless you’ve been living for some time on Mars, you know that the English texts of the liturgy are undergoing revision. This revision is accompanied by great hope that it will allow the teachings of Vatican II on the liturgy finally to bear their full and authentic fruit. While I wholeheartedly share this hope, there is something equally fundamental to liturgical renewal calling for our attention – a proper ordering of Marian devotion in the life of every Catholic.


What Is Spiritual Desolation and How Do I Get Out of It?

Spiritual desolation, as St. Ignatius of Loyola defines it in the Fourth Rule of his Spiritual Exercises, contains attributes “such as darkness of soul, disturbance in it, movement to low and earthly things, disquiet from various agitations and temptations, moving to lack of confidence, without hope, without love, finding oneself totally slothful, tepid, sad, and, as if separated from one’s Creator and Lord.”


The 7 Sacraments and the Cross

Today we are going to talk about the Sacraments and the Cross.

I have just finished listening to an awesome CD set by Brant Pitre on Sacramental Theology and while he is totally speculating, he links the seven last words of Christ on the Cross to the seven Sacraments.


Five Ways We Can Know God Exists–and What These Ways Tell Us About Him

In their Handbook for Christian Apologetics, Professors Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli (S.J.) present twenty different arguments for the existence of God. These range from physical to psychological, and form historical to relatively modern: and different of these ways of knowing that God exists will be helpful to different types of people. I want to begin today by outlining briefly a few of these as a sort of extension of the last two of your reflection questions, because each of these arguments also tells us something about God.


Revelation, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium

This past Tuesday, September 13, I taught my first RCIA class, offered at St. Peter’s Catholic Student Center at Baylor University. Although I have been teaching philosophy to college students for twenty-five years, I was a bit nervous. Thankfully, I have a minor role in the class, leading only one session this semester with perhaps another one or two in the Spring. Our RCIA team consists of several seasoned parishioners, with St. Peter’s gifted pastor, Fr. Anthony Odiong, overseeing the entire enterprise.


The Widow of Nain and the Virgin Mary

I mentioned yesterday that Luke 7:11-17, in which Jesus resurrects the son of the widow of Nain, “is important for a number of reasons, not least of which is that Jesus raises the son out of love for the mother. There’s an obvious Marian element to this — given that Jesus has mercy on all of us for the sake of His (and our) Mother.”


Mary Sees Us

“Just try to imitate the Blessed Virgin,” my old pastor would always counsel me. This was when I was a teenager struggling with all the usual teenager sins. The only thing I could see that Mary and I had in common was the color blue: her mantle, my hair. So his advice, while technically excellent, was entirely unhelpful.


The Rosary of the Seven Dolours

The Rosary of the Seven Dolours of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a way of holding in one’s heart the mystery/events of the Childhood and Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Compassion of His Virgin Mother.

The fruits of this particular prayer are well known to those who pray it habitually:


Three Arguments for Your Atheist Friends

You don’t have to be a philosophy major to talk to atheists about God. Here are three simple arguments to help you in your task. Practice them on a friend before you try to use them in real life.


The Acts We Perform; the People We Become

From the 1950’s through the late 1970’s Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II) was a professor of moral philosophy at the Catholic University of Lublin in Poland, specializing in sexual ethics and what we call today “marriage and family life.” He produced two important books touching on these matters, The Acting Person, a rigorously philosophical exploration of Christian anthropology, and Love and Responsibility, a much more accessible analysis of love, sex, and marriage.


Does the Catholic Church Have Doubts About Brain Death?

The Catholic Church has long acknowledged the role of the medical professional in declaring death.

It is the proper competency of medicine, not theology, to identify reliable signs that death has occurred. The hardening of the body known as rigor mortis, for example, is a reliable medical indicator that death has occurred. When the heart permanently stops beating and the lungs permanently stop functioning (cessation of cardio-pulmonary function), medical professionals recognize these signs as another reliable way to assess that death has occurred. The complete and irreversible loss of all brain function (commonly known as “brain death,”) is yet another reliable way medical professionals determine that a patient has died.


Maintaining Joy in the Middle of the Craziness Around Us

Normally I wake up every morning in a great mood, always filled with enthusiasm to do what I can to fulfill my daily mission as a Catholic priest. However, this morning, I awoke with a horrible feeling. I kept pushing myself all morning. Yes, I got my work done, but I could not shake this pervasive feeling that was keeping me down all morning


Are the Dead Conscious or in “Soul Sleep”? A Look at the New Testament’s Teaching

Before the summer session started I began a series on the Catholic understanding of the saints. It originated–as do most things in biblioblogdom–as a response to a post from my friend Jim West. I know it’s been a while, but I haven’t abandoned the topic. I’ve just been very, very busy over the summer. But, for better or for worse, I’m back. . .


Emilio Estevez and Martin Sheen Talk of Faith

Director and actor Emilio Estevez and his actor father, Martin Sheen, are in the midst of a bus tour promoting and screening their new film, “The Way,” which opens October 7. It’s a refreshingly beautiful and respectful treatment of the Church, telling the story of a father who decides to take the Camino de Santiago walking pilgrimage in honor of his deceased son. Estevez and Sheen sat down with me on Tuesday afternoon to talk about the film.


Apologetics and The Catholicism Project

I’m excited about Fr. Robert Barron’s The Catholicism Project. In particular, the television series set to air on PBS. In fact, the television series is flat out great evangelistic media: professional, compelling, beautiful, and prayer-inspiring. It’s the anti TBN (if you don’t know what that is, don’t bother)..


This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s