Today’s Gospel is a parable of the Kingdom and, once again, it helps confirm that the Kingdom of heaven is truly something else. The concept of the Kingdom of heaven is the second most frequently mentioned idea in the New Testament. It occurs one hundred forty-eight times. Only the word for selfless love – agape – appears more often.
Jesus would explain that the Kingdom is a place where the last becomes the first and the first last; where the exalted are humbled and the humble are exalted; where the one who is at the top has to be the servant of the rest.
Some people think that Jesus’ story in today’s Gospel is unfair and unjust one. (l’ve heard this many times). This is a very serious accusation. Injustice is an ugly thing. All of us have some experience of it. Injustice leaves a wound that takes a long time to heal. Jesus’ story is not about injustice, because no injustice is done in it.
Nor is his story about justice, though it goes out of its way to state that justice is done. Justice is a great thing. It is one of the things that is stressed again and again in the Bible. But Jesus’ story is not about justice.
What then is Jesus’ story about? It is about generosity. ‘Are you envious because I am generous?’ That is the key phrase in the story. The story is about generosity, but not ordinary generosity. It’s about a generosity unlike anything we’ve ever known.
The eleventh-hour workers were not idlers who didn’t want to work. They were people no respectable employer would hire. They were the leftovers, the rejects. The idea that any employer would take these people on at the eleventh hour, and pay them a full day’s wage, was unthinkable. Yet, this is exactly what the owner of the vineyard did. This is the strong point of the parable.
Jesus wasn’t talking about human generosity but about the generosity of God. He was illustrating what the First Reading said, “God’s ways are not our ways, God’s thoughts are not our thoughts.” God’s generosity utterly transcends human generosity.
The parable was aimed at the Pharisees. They were critical of Jesus because he befriended sinners. Jesus gave them his answer in this parable. In it he showed them what God is like: God is generous and full of compassion for the poor and the outcast. God deals with us in ways that are very different from the ways we normally deal with one another. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high is God’s generosity above our generosity. The goodness of God is a great comfort to us. But it is also a great challenge, because we are called to imitate it; to make our ways of dealing with one another more like God’s way of dealing with us.
A conversion is required before we can begin to act like God. Not an intellectual conversion, but a conversion of the heart. Faith is a call which above all is addressed to the heart. In essence it consists of a relationship of love with the God who first loved us. It is with the heart that we best grasp God. St John says: “Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” Once God has touched our hearts, and warmed them with his love, we will begin to love in our turn. And then we will truly know what God is like. God is love.