domenica 24 settembre 2017

«Quod iustum fuerit, dabo vobis»

We start today the reading of the fifth and last book of Matthew’s gospel, which is about the approaching advent of the kingdom of heaven. The events narrated in this part take place in Judea and in Jerusalem, just before Jesus’ passion. The parable of the workers in the vineyard is peculiar to Matthew; we do not find it in the other gospels. Since this evangelist writes his gospel for the Jews who had become Christian, his concern is to explain them how come God, who had chosen Israel as his people, now is turning to the pagans.

We can find different layers of meaning in this parable. Maybe, at its origin, Jesus addressed it to the Pharisees, who could be considered the workers of the first hour and complained that Jesus used to welcome and eat with sinners—the workers of the last hour. In Matthew’s gospel, the parable takes a wider meaning, and so in the first laborers we can see the Jews, and the last workers could be considered the image of the pagans. We, in our turn, could see ourselves in the first comers; and in the laborers who came last, we could recognize those people who convert themselves after a life of sin. Now we will consider the parable as it is in the gospel. Then each one can make different applications by himself.

The master calls to work into his vineyard five groups of laborers: at dawn, at nine, at noon, at three and at five. The way he summons them is different: with the workers called at dawn the master makes an agreement, that they accept: he will give them “the usual daily wage” (literally, “a denarius”); with those hired at nine, at noon and at three, he just makes a promise: “I will give you what is just (quod iustum fuerit, dabo vobis),” without specifying how much he will give them; those called at five—the master limits himself to send them to work into his vineyard, saying nothing about their pay; they trust the master and go without demanding guarantees. At the end of the day, the laborers are paid all in the same way: all of them receive the usual daily wage—a denarius. In a sense, the last arrivals are rewarded for their confidence; and, after working only one hour, are payed with the wage for a workday. Of course, the first called grumble against the landowner because, according to them, it is not fair to give the same pay to those who have worked only one hour and to them, who have borne “the day’s burden and the heat.” For them, justice means to give each one according to their merit: if you work twelve hours, you deserve twelve times what the one, who has worked one hour, receives. But the master has a different idea of justice: I have made an agreement with you; and I keep that agreement, giving you a denarius; I would be unfair, if I did not give you what agreed. If then I want to give the same wage to others, who have worked less than you, first, it is not your business; second, this has nothing to do with justice, it just depends on my generosity; third, you cannot interfere with my generosity. And, as if that was not enough, the master unmasks the true reason of the first comers’ complaint: their resentment does not come from justice, but from envy.

There is a final point to consider. The workers of the first hour, while grumbling about the alleged injustice suffered, forget that they also have been favored by the master when he called them to work into his vineyard. The master was not bound to choose them; it was a privilege to be hired. Now they remember only “the day’s burden and the heat,” but they do not consider that they could still stand idle in the marketplace. Of course, work is tiring; but, without work, they could not live. They should consider themselves lucky to have been chosen and thank the master for that. We too often complain that being Christian is a burden, and envy those who are not, because they would be freer than us. But we forget that having been called to serve the Lord from dawn is a priceless honor, which exceeds whatever trouble we could experience.