Weekly Gospel Reflection - 18 September 2011
Matthew 20.1-16 CEB: “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. After he agreed with the workers to pay them a denarion,* he sent them into his vineyard.
“Then he went out around nine in the morning and saw others standing around the marketplace doing nothing. He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I’ll pay you whatever is right.’ And they went.
“Again around noon and then at three in the afternoon, he did the same thing. Around five in the afternoon he went and found others standing around, and he said to them, ‘Why are you just standing around here doing nothing all day long?’
“ ‘Because nobody has hired us,’ they replied.
“He responded, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’
“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the workers and give them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and moving on finally to the first.’ When those who were hired at five in the afternoon came, each one received a denarion. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more. But each of them also received a denarion. When they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, ‘These who were hired last worked one hour, and they received the same pay as we did even though we had to work the whole day in the hot sun.’
“But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I did you no wrong. Didn’t I agree to pay you a denarion? Take what belongs to you and go. I want to give to this one who was hired last the same as I give to you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with what belongs to me? Or are you resentful because I’m generous?’ So those who are last will be first. And those who are first will be last.”
* - A denarion was a typical day’s wages.
As has been pointed out before, the ‘kingdom of heaven’ (or God’s Realm) was initially thought of as coming after this world was destroyed. However, one of the points of Jesus’ stories about the Realm of God was that it was emerging at that very moment. In this story, we could picture the ‘landowner’ as being Christ and the first people hired would be the disciples with the subsequent people hired as other people who follow Christ later one (starting with the Gentiles as mentioned in Acts).
The point of this story is that all of God’s people are equals and should be treated as such. I have often stated that the one place that people should be able to go and be accepted and treated as equals are churches. Sadly, however, that is not always the case. It started out that way. In the early life of the Church, women were seen and treated as equals (forget all that you’ve heard about St Paul). One of the reasons for the early growth of the church was the ideal of God’s Realm being manifested on earth.
Later, in Ireland, this same ideal was made manifest by the several monasteries that housed both men and women. Some were even guided by women (St Hilda of Whitby being one of the most famous).
But at some point in history, probably around the early fourth century, this changed. Women were gradually removed from places of prominence. Equality was replaced with segregation and the idea that men were the top of the hierarchical structure took hold and hasn’t really been released.
And it wasn’t until the ‘world’ started looking at the inequalities and injustices going on that things started changing again. Certainly, these changes were helped along the way (and in some cases started) by people dedicated to God’s dream of equality, but, by and large, it was the churches that were (and have been) the strongest opponents of equality regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation.
But in the story above, we see that all people, regardless of when they became members of God’s family, were seen as equal with everyone else. The person who got started late received the same pay as the person who had been working all day. In God’s Realm, all people enjoy the same benefits of being in God’s family. All people can be leaders - regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation. God’s Realm is not about leadership and laity. It’s about the old saying, ‘At the foot of the cross, the ground is level.’ It is we who have made these distinctions and divisions and false categories. Either we have made them ourselves or we have allowed them to be made. Let’s start removing them today. Right now. Wherever we can. At home. At school. At work. At our places of worship. Let’s look for places where we can take God’s Realm and integrate it into ours. That is, after all, the point of the story we find ourselves in.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br Jack+, LC