Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Justice and Mercy
Human Resources would not have been happy with that landowner. Sometimes, it seems that Human Resources does not want to come out on the side of generosity. I remember a time that we wanted to pay an employee extra for work on a particular project. We were told that we could not do this unless we re-adjusted that employee’s pay scale for all his work.
Back in the times of the Lord, HR did not exist. However, people had a sense of what was just and what was unjust. Day workers were given the daily wage of one denarius. The workday was sunrise to sunset. So, it would seem just that those who worked less than a full day should receive less. But in today’s parable, sometimes called the parable of the Laborers in the Marketplace, other times, perhaps much better, referred to as the Parable of the Good Employer, the landowner has pity on those who could not find work throughout the day. They had families they had to feed. It was not their fault that no one hired them. Therefore, he hires them, some of them even a few hours before sunset, and gives them all the same daily wage. He is not being unjust to those hired in the early morning. He is being charitable, merciful, to those hired at the end of the day.
Justice and mercy are compatible when charity is involved. "Are you envious because I am generous," the owner says to those hired at sunrise who protested that they did not receive more. The exact translation of this is "Do you view my actions with an evil, jealous eye?" This occurs in the Gospel of Matthew where we also read, "If your eye causes you to sin, then pluck it out." Usually we relegate this phrase to a sexual connotation. Properly applied to the point of today's parable, the Lord is saying, "If you begrudge generosity to the less fortunate, than you cannot be a Christian." If we do not rejoice in the benefits given to others, than we cut ourselves off from the benefits we have received. As Christians, we are obligated to care for the poor. We need to establish governmental and private means to aid those who cannot help themselves. Yes, these agencies must be regulated to eliminate those who abuse them. That is justice. But our main concern must be to care for those who have less. That is mercy. Some people reduce those forced into situations where they have to seek help from others. This is not how a Christian should act. Yes, we should be happy when we realize that poor, sick, or people hurting in any way are being helped, but more than that, much more than that, we should be extending the hand of God to lift others up.
“Are you envious because I am generous?” Envy and jealousy are horrible. The jealous person looks for ways to destroy another person’s life. The jealous person usually ends up destroying his own life. Or her own life. The jealous person does not appreciate his own gifts. He can only see the gifts that others have. He hates them for their gifts. And his hatred destroys him. Everybody is different. No two people are the same. We do not have the right to compare or contrast others to ourselves.
This parable should also be applied to our view of our relationship to God. God loves the person who is faithful throughout the day. He loves cradle Catholics who practice their faith throughout their lives. He also loves those who come to him during the day and even in the evening. Many people respond to God’s mercy at the end of their lives. God loves them for taking a huge step away from their former lives and for falling into the arms of His Mercy. Literature presents Don Juan who refuse to reject his immoral lifestyle and would rather suffer hell than entrust himself to God. It is a tremendous step of humility to turn from a sinful life and turn to the Lord. God loves those who take this step, even though they join St. Augustine in mourning, “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient ever new. Late have I loved you.” What matters is that they are with him now. God loves cradle Catholics, and he loves converts. He loves those who practice their faith throughout their lives, and he loves those who return to the faith. We rejoice in those who join the faith or return to the faith. We don't consider ourselves superior to them because we are not superior to them.
At the end of the gospel reading we come upon the phrase, “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” We cannot impose our ways on the Lord. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.” That is from our first reading. We cannot tell God how to be God. We have to do our best to respond to the call to labor in God's vineyard as we have received it. That call demands that we are open to God's mercy in our lives and that we become vehicles for God's mercy in the lives of others. That is Christianity. To act otherwise is to begrudge God for his generosity, or to be scripturally literal, to look upon God's goodness with an evil, jealous eye.
The parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard calls upon us to ask God to help us be vehicles of His Mercy.