Today’s Gospel parable shocks us. We are attached to the idea that we should get what we deserve. Those who work harder should be better paid. It seems obvious – to human thinking.
Jesus’ teaching shows us a difference between God’s ways and our ways. One denarius was a day’s wage for a worker – a living wage, we might say. So, if the vineyard owner had paid the late arrivals less than a denarius, they and their families might go hungry that day. Instead, the landowner pays each worker enough to get by, and gives each one the dignity of earning their daily bread. But it seems unfair to those who have done a full day’s work in all the heat. Why should others receive the same wage for just one hour’s work? The landowner replies, ‘Why be envious because I am generous?’
The parable teaches us that, when we stand before God, we are not like workers, demanding our just wages. Before God, we always stand as beggars. We can never earn our place in the kingdom of heaven; we can only hope for God’s mercy. Salvation is always God’s gift. Once we understand this, there is no room for jealousy or resentment over God’s gifts to others. We can only receive with gratitude what God gives us.