September 20, 2023 at 9:22 a.m.
A parable of the workers in the field
It doesn’t matter when you are called to the Lord Jesus, all are treated the same.
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The Gospel passage with which the Church presents us this Sunday for our reflection, taken from the Evangelist Matthew, once again proves Our Lord Jesus to be the Master Teacher. Jesus’ use of parables in Matthew’s Gospel demonstrates a great number of things, particularly the very rabbinical nature of Jesus’ style.
Recall that the Gospel of Matthew was written for Jewish converts to Christianity and continually shows the Lord Jesus as the fulfillment of the hopes and dreams of the chosen people of Israel. Jesus in Matthew is greater than Moses and the prophets, greater than the patriarchs; Jesus is the Messiah of God, the true and great liberator of Israel (and indeed the eschatological Israel that is all humankind.)
“For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.” — Philippians 1:21
With this in mind, Jesus, in order to get his point across, uses parables and short vignettes to teach his Way to his disciples, like the rabbis and great teachers of the law and the prophets of his day. Sunday’s lesson from Our Lord Jesus, the Master Teacher, offers us a two-fold lesson, on both the individual and the communal level.
His parable of the workers in the field, with those working for only one hour getting the exact same wage as those who worked hard all day long, reminds us that the values of the Kingdom of God (the central message of Jesus Christ, namely, who he is and what he came to bring) are different than the ways of the world, fallen as it is, groaning under the weight of sin and sadness.
The workers who arrived and worked for only an hour, by a sense of earthly justice, deserve to be paid much, much less than those who labored in the hot sun all day. And yet, they are paid the same. What does Our Lord Jesus, the Master Teacher, mean by this? Simply put, it means that it doesn’t matter when you are called to the Lord Jesus, to follow him and his Way that is Christianity, all are treated the same. From the recent convert to the cradle Catholic, all of us are searching for the same thing: new life, forgiveness of our sins, and, ultimately, the redemption that only Our Lord Jesus, he who is true God and true man, can truly provide.
Jesus is always waiting for us, with his arms open wide on his Holy Cross, to embrace us, forgive us, heal us and bring us with him, even if it is at the very last seconds of our lives. Look to the example of the “good thief,” Saint Dismas (Luke 23). Here we have a sinner who in his dying moments looks to Jesus, suffering on the horrible cross, and Dismas sees instead the Savior God reigning in glory on the Tree of Life and asks for forgiveness. It is never too late to “be hired” and to work in the vineyard of the Lord in the Kingdom of God.
Likewise, this parable of the Lord Jesus could also be considered to be a powerful message about the welcoming of converts to Christianity who were not Jewish and the Lord Jesus’ powerful universal salvific will. Christ suffers, dies and rises for all humanity and his salvation is open to all those who choose to accept his way of love in his or her life. Christ hungers for the salvation of all (although each individual soul has free will and can choose not to be saved; hence, the reality of hell.) The Jewish people are still God’s chosen people and the covenant(s) made throughout salvation history have never been nullified. Christianity is the branch grafted onto the olive tree which is Israel (Romans 11:17-24).
The Jewish people are our older brothers and sisters in the faith and we share in belief in the one true God. However, through the gift of the Paschal Mystery of Christ, the doors of salvation are open to all.
May we realize the great desire that our loving and saving Jesus has for us; his sacred heart beats out of love for us and his immense desire for our salvation, both personally and for the whole world. Pray that many people will come to know and follow the way of the Lord Jesus.
Father Cush is a professor of Dogmatic Theology at Saint Joseph’s Seminary and College in Dunwoodie, New York.