Imagine a person who just won the Powerball – hundreds of millions of dollars – and then that same day was complaining because gas prices had just gone up 10 cents and they acted as if their whole day was just ruined! Wouldn’t you think that person would have to be extremely out of touch with what’s important? They are now multi-multi millionaires. Shouldn’t that outshine a couple of dollars at the pump to keep their day in the “good category?”
Or imagine a person who was getting married and everyone was all excited for them and there was all of the tremendous run-up to the wedding and all the photos and everything, but then at the wedding they become jealous at the attention that is given for a few moments to the flowergirl – that would be ridiculous. Hey, you’re getting married – share a little attention – it’s still your wedding – the cuter the flower girl, the more beautiful your ceremony anyway.
These are completely fictitious examples, and it shouldn’t take much maturity to see how shortsighted these two people would be if they were real. It is like they are three year olds – they understand what they want, but they have a hard time seeing the bigger picture. But I would say that this kind of thing often happens to us. What’s worse is that when we are tempted towards a sort of adult toddler mindset we can find it very hard to trust anyone else trying to help us put things in perspective or point out some other way.
God’s ways are not our ways, but God does not tell us that because He is happy about it. You might say the same thing about a three-year old. As far as the ceiling is above the floor, so high are my thoughts above your thoughts. Probably so, but I don’t take joy from that difference to the point that I don’t want a three-year old to continue maturing and growing into an adult that can relate to me. In just the same way, Jesus teaches us this parable to help us reevaluate. So what’s going on anyway?
Well, for starters the vineyard can be thought of as the People of God. The marketplace where all of the workers are originally found waiting to be hired is the world. The day encompasses human history. The different hours are seen as the different ages of the Salvation history – so dawn till nine would be Adam to Noah. The age from Noah till Abraham would be 9 o’clock to noon. Noon to 3 would represent Abraham to Moses. 3 o’clock to 5 o’clock would be Moses to Christ and 5 o’clock to 6 o’clock (the twelfth hour and the final hour of the work day) would be the time of Christ and His Church. Now God had called the Jews to work in the vineyard from early on in this day. They share in the covenant and become a people from the time of Abraham. This parable is a lot like the end of the Prodigal Son parable where the older brother has served the father the whole time and gets angry at the mercy towards his younger brother. The Jews are the older brother and in this parable the workers who have been out in the field. The Gentiles are the younger brother and in this case those called by Christ into the People of God. The Jews did go and work and they do start early in the day. But work isn’t all bad! Adam in his sin had disobeyed God. Work done for others – that is – work done in the vineyard allows us to cooperate with God and gets us outside of ourselves. Even when the thorns of creation prick us, that is when we suffer in our work, we can remember that Christ was crowned with thorns and made even this suffering into a most holy thing. The worst of our work can draw us the closest to Christ. Furthermore, I don’t know too many people who like standing around. There is not much meaning to be found standing idle in the world. Those who labor in the vineyard of the Lord have the potential to unite all of their efforts to God.
The problem is not recognizing the payment. The payment is not only the denarius which represents one day’s labor – or the money to live on through tomorrow. The payment is life meaning something today with the promise of more. The payment is life itself or the love of God. If we want to be grateful for the life we will have in eternity, it is worth our while to start being grateful for the life we have today. The sacrifices of the Israelites and the Jews especially have been told and retold by the lips of Gentiles in a way that those who came late to the vineyard can never replace. Their lives when they were lived in love of God are celebrated and honored because they have taken on the meaning of God’s chosen bride.
The problem is that all of us want to compare ourselves and how we feel we have been treated. We compare ourselves to others and we compare ourselves to ourselves. If we simply accepted God’s gift of life we could begin living our life with eternal meaning (the meaning of Christ’s love) now. We as Christians, we have been called in this last hour. While the whole body of the Christian faithful has been working in the vineyard for far less time, we are capable of laboring according to Christ’s teaching of love and grace and sacrifice – and thus with Christ, we can accomplish a great fruitfulness and many Christians have, as the Kingdom of God is now spread throughout the world. While those coming early have labored according to the Law, the Christians have labored for the Father – and therefore have received Him as their very reward, a reward that is open to all and lacks nothing.
Christ calls us to a higher way of thinking, to a maturity that desires even to remain in the field like St. Paul if that is for the good of others rather than go onto our reward. In the Eucharist, Christ continues to pay us with the gift of Himself, planting Himself in our hearts that we might bring forth a harvest before the day is done.