TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (A)
This is what we hope it will become. But our child-like concept of fairness must grow and mature quite a bit to become the virtue of justice. The Catechism defines justice as "the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor" (CCC 1807). This giving people their due can be negative, as in a just punishment for a crime; or it can be positive, as in a just wage for a day's work.
When a child cries, "That's not fair!" however, he or she does not usually mean that someone is not receiving what is due to them. Usually it means that the child in question is not receiving what they want -- or more often they see another child receiving something good and they don't know how to express their jealousy other than by shouting "It's not fair!"
Today's gospel reading (Mt 20:1-16) offers us an opportunity to examine our own consciences and think about whether we have developed a true sense of justice or are still stuck in the childish view of "fairness." Today we hear the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. Some laborers are hired at dawn to work in the master's vineyard and promised a full day's wage. Other laborers are hired at 9:00am; still more at noon and at three, and so on. Finally the last laborers are hired at the end of the day and work barely an hour. When the day's wages are paid out, all receive a full day's pay.
The gospel tells us that the ones who were hired early in the day "grumbled." That's probably an understatement! It is not hard to imagine their childish cry upon seeing those who were hired late in the day receiving the full amount of pay -- "That's not fair!" But the master reminds them that those who worked a full day will also receive a full day's pay, which was exactly what was promised them. The master in the parable is not being unjust, he is being generous. Each worker received his due; some received more than their due. It is the fact that some received more that upsets the first workers. Their grumbling is not about justice, but jealousy.
Jesus, in this parable, is warning us against this jealousy. The master in the story is like God, and we are the workers in the vineyard. Some of us come to God early in our lives. Others will come relatively late, after many years of sin. God is perfectly just, and He will faithfully reward His followers who serve Him all their lives. But God is also perfectly merciful. Those who have waited until late in the day to follow Christ need an abundance of mercy, and that is just what God offers them. This is not injustice. This is generosity. This is love.
The lesson to take from today's parable is twofold. First, those who have served God faithfully for many years should not resent those who come more recently to the faith. And second, it is never too late to join the workers in the vineyard and come to Christ -- that is to say, it is never too late for repentance and conversion. Sometimes when we are deep in our sins we may begin to despair and ask, "How can God love me? It's too late for me to be saved." But this is the God who would pay those hired at the end of the day a full day's wage. The hour you come to Him does not matter. What matters is that you come to Him.
Is that fair? Probably not according to the childish understanding of "fairness." If that is fairness, then God is not fair. And thank God for that! None of us will get to heaven because it is "fair." God is more than fair -- He is merciful. It is only by God's mercy and generous love that we are saved.
REMINDER! Father Voitus is available for Confession at 3:30, half an hour before Mass. But this is not the only time; Confession is also available by appointment, and you can request the sacrament any time you see Father on campus.