Lectio Divina: Matthew 20:1-16
1) Opening prayer
God our Father,
may we love You in all things and above all things
and reach the joy You have prepared for us
beyond all our imagining.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2) Gospel Reading - Matthew 20:1-16
Jesus told his disciples this parable: "The Kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. Going out about nine o'clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and he said to them, 'You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.' So they went off. And he went out again around noon, and around three o'clock, and did likewise. Going out about five o'clock, he found others standing around, and said to them, 'Why do you stand here idle all day?' They answered, 'Because no one has hired us.' He said to them, 'You too go into my vineyard.' When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.' When those who had started about five o'clock came, each received the usual daily wage. So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage. And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying, 'These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day's burden and the heat.' He said to one of them in reply, 'My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?' Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last."
• Today’s Gospel presents a parable which is found only in Matthew’s Gospel. It is not in the other Gospels. Like in all parables, Jesus tells a story about daily elements, daily things of the life of the people. He presents a picture of the social situation of His time, in which the listeners recognize themselves. At the same time, in the story of this parable, there are things which never take place in the reality of the life of the people, because speaking about the master, Jesus thinks about God, about His Father. This is why in the story of the parable the master does things which are surprising which never take place in the daily life of the listeners. In this strange approach of the master, it is necessary to find the key to understanding the message of the parable.
• Matthew 20:1-7: The five times that the landowner goes out to look for laborers. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner going out at daybreak to hire workers for his vineyard. He made an agreement with the workers for one denarius a day and sent them to his vineyard”. This is how the story begins and it speaks for itself and does not need too many comments. In what follows, the landowner goes out four times to call other workers to go and work in his vineyard. Jesus refers to the terrible lack of work at that time. Now some details of the story: (a) the landowner himself goes out personally five times to contract workers. (b) When he contracts the workers, he fixes the salary only for the first group: one denarius a day. To those of nine o’clock in the morning he says: I will give you what is just, fair. With the others, he does not fix anything. He contracted them only to work in the vineyard. (c) At the end of the day, when it was the time to pay the workers, the landowners orders the administrator to carry out this service.
• Matthew 20:8-10: The strange way of fixing the accounts at the end of the day. When it was evening, the landowner of the vineyard told his administrator: Call the workers and pay them, beginning from the last ones to the first ones. Here, at the time of drawing the accounts, something strange takes place which does not happen in normal life. It seems that things are inverted. The administrator begins to pay those who were contracted just an hour before. The salary is the same for all: one denarius, as it was agreed with the first ones who were contracted at the beginning of the day. When the first came, they expected to get more but they too received one denarius each. Why does the landowner act like that? Would you do the same? It is precisely in this surprising gesture of the landowner that the key to understanding this parable is hidden.
• Matthew 20:11-12: The normal reaction of the workers before the strange ways of the landowner. The last ones also receive their salary as those who were contracted first. The story says that these began to grumble against the landowner and said, “The men who came last have done only one hour and you have treated them the same as us, though we have done a heavy day’s work in all the heat”. This is the normal reaction of a good sense. I think that all of us would have had the same reaction and would have said the same thing to the landowner. Would we not?
• Matthew 20:13-16: The surprising explanation of the landowner which gives the key to the parable. The response of the landowner is the following: “My friend, I am not being unjust to you. Did we not agree on one denarius? Take your earnings and go. I choose to pay the last comer as much as I pay you; have I no right to do what I like with my own? Why should you be envious because I am generous?” These words give the key which explains the attitude of the landowner and indicates the message which Jesus wants to communicate to us: (a) The landowner was not unjust, because he acts according to what he had agreed with the first group of workers: one denarius a day. (b) It is the sovereign decision of the landowner to give to the last ones the same amount that he had agreed upon with those of the first hour. These do not have the right to complain and claim anything. (c) Acting with justice, the landowner has the right to do the good that he wants with the things that belong to him. The worker, on his part, has this same right. (d) The last question touches on the central point: Why should you be envious because I am generous? God is different and His thoughts are not our thoughts (Isa 55: 8-9).
• The background of the parable is the circumstance of the time, for Jesus as well as for Matthew. The workers of the first hour are the Jewish people, called by God to work in his vineyard. They bear the weight of the day, from Abraham to Moses, for over one thousand years. Now at the eleventh hour, Jesus calls the gentiles to work in his vineyard and they succeed in having the preference in the heart of God. “Thus the first ones will be last and the last will be first”.
4) Personal questions
• Those of the eleventh hour arrive. They have advantages and receive priority in regard to entrance into the Kingdom of God. When you wait in line for two hours, and a person arrives, and without saying anything she places herself before you. Would you accept this? Can these two situations be compared? (hint: she places herself, rather than someone higher choosing to place her - does this change things?)
• God’s action surpasses our calculations and our human way of acting. He surprises us and sometimes it is uncomfortable. Has this happened to you in your life? What lessons have you drawn from this?
• This parable uses "work" and "workers" to convey its message. Why? Is there also the message that to receive "payment" also requires work? To be a Christian demands work - it is not a passive existence, but rather an active participation in the work of God.
5) Concluding Prayer
Kindness and faithful love pursue me every day of my life.
I make my home in the house of Yahweh
for all time to come. (Ps 23:6)