Today’s Gospel reading gives us an important insight into the Justice of God. The bottom line is that our way of thinking is not God’s way of thinking. Divine justice is totally different from human justice.
According to human thinking during Jesus’ time and according to human thinking in our own day, 20 centuries later, there is a gross miscarriage of justice in the situation described in today’s Gospel. From a human, societal and cultural perspective, the grumblers are correct. The landowner is not fair.
Wages are always determined by hours worked. Those who work more hours expect to receive a bigger pay cheque than those who work less hours. The more hours we work, the more money we deserve. More work is rewarded with more pay.
In accordance with human resources principles, it is absolutely unfair for a person who works only 1 hour to receive the same wage as someone who works the entire day. Our legal system, our human rights system and our labour relations system would condemn such behavior on the part of any employer. Neither unionized nor non-unionized environments would tolerate such a practice.
The parable in today’s Gospel teaches us 2 important lessons. The 1st lesson is that God does behave like the employer of the vineyard. In order to understand the reason, it is important to recall the biblical definition of God. God is love. God can only think love, say love and do love. As Fr. Richard Rohr states, “Love is God’s 1st name; love is God’s middle name; love is God’s last name”. Furthermore, God loves us perfectly. There are no mistakes, no injustices in his loving.
What the parable is trying to say is that God’s love is so excessive, so extravagant that it is seems over the top. We have no human standard, no human reference that can adequately describe the abundant generosity of God. Regardless of the human comparator that we use, God’s love seems irrational. According to human justice, it is absolutely crazy to pay someone who works 1 hour the same as someone who works 10 hours. That’s the reason St. Catherine of Siena refers to God as someone “who is crazy in love with us”.
The writer from the web site “Sacred Space” puts it this way: “What each of the workers received was a symbol of the love of God, who is the vineyard owner. All – early arrivals and latecomers – got exactly the same, the love of their Master and Lord. There are not various degrees of that love. It is always 100 percent. God can only love totally. He cannot and will not give more of that love to one than another.”
God is not a mathematician in the sky who uses a formula to parcel out or divide up his love based on our merit. God gives his love, all of his love, to every person that he has created. There are no exceptions.
The 2nd lesson of the parable is that God’s love cannot be earned. It is a gift which is freely given, and which we do not deserve. Our only responsibility is to accept this perfect love. It does not matter whether our response happens early or late in our lives. God’s love for us is summarized by the 3 “uns”: unconditional, unchanging and unending.
The basis of God’s relationship with us is not based on reward and punishment. God’s judgement of us is rooted in his love for us. Like his love, God’s justice is the best and the fullest.
These 2 lessons are good news for us. They offer us so much hope! In our sinfulness, we turn our backs on God and move away from him and his love. No matter how far we have wandered from him, whenever we return to him, even if it’s at the 11th hour, he is ready to welcome us and embrace us with his outstretched arms. That’s what the justice of God looks like!
As our Eucharist continues, let us recall the words of today’s Responsorial Psalm: “The Lord is my shepherd; there is NOTHING I shall want”. Therefore, let us stand before God in a spirit of awe and gratitude for being a crazy lover who has an even crazier sense of justice.
Deacon Roland Muzzatti
August 19, 2020