Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 24, 2017)
As I listen to the parables of Jesus, I often find myself drawn to one or another of the characters in the story. On first hearing today’s parable, I can understand the complaints made by those who had worked in the hot sun all day. They had worked long and hard and they were the last to be paid. That must have been hard enough, but when they finally got their wages - disappointment and anger - they got the same wage as those who had only worked an hour. This was obviously unfair treatment; they deserved more.
As I listened a second time, I could imagine the surprise and joy the last group hired must have felt when they got a full day’s wage. They must have had broad smiles on their faces as they greeted the last group to be paid. I can almost hear them saying, “Suckers.”
As I listened a third time, Jesus’ closing words struck me: “Thus, the last shall be first and the first shall be last.” That just doesn’t seem fair at all. Jesus is drawing our attention to the words of the prophet Isaiah: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.” Our God treats us with generous mercy - outrageously generous mercy - much like the owner of the vineyard. And he reminds us: “I am free to do as I please with my mercy, am I not? Or are you envious because I choose to be generous?”
None of us would argue with God’s desire to be generous with his mercy; all of us sinners are benefiting from it. The real challenge comes when Jesus tells us: “Be compassionate as my heavenly Father is compassionate.” Compassion is not measured by justice, what others might deserve; rather compassion is measured by love.
This is how our Father has treated us. In order to be compassionate as Jesus asks us to be, we must learn to develop the sight of God - seeing others as his children who are loved just because they are his children. As generous as God’s compassion is to us, so our compassion must be toward anyone in need - even if they haven’t worked as hard as we have to be like Jesus.
Generous compassion is how we conduct ourselves in a way worthy of the good news that Jesus has revealed to us. Let us try to be such good news to others.