Well, we’ve been hearing a lot of “grumbling” lately. Last week the grumbling was by those who did not want to forgive. Today the complaints are about some seemingly undeserving workers getting paid exactly the same as those who had worked about nine times as many hours. But remember, this is a parable, and the listeners would have known that there was a special hidden lesson in it, a “catch” or “twist” intended to shock a person or group of people until they realise that it’s a criticism aimed at them, calling them to a conversion of heart. This is not a story about social justice in wages; that is at the surface level. At a deeper level is the spiritual consequence – what the reward for following Jesus is all about.
The “vineyard” is almost always a symbol for Israel in the Old Testament, and this parable is being told to the disciples who will be working in that vineyard. In the all-important context, Peter had earlier asked Jesus what the kingdom of heaven offered to those who had left everything to follow him (Matthew 19:27). This parable tells him the answer. In the kingdom of heaven, all is a gift, and that gift cannot be “earnt” by working harder than someone else. We should be grateful that we have a God who rewards all who accept his invitation to come to work in his vineyard, no matter what the hour. The Gentiles are as welcome as the Jews.
You and I do not “deserve” heaven. It is simply pure gift to those who believe, repent, and try faithfully to live out the values and teachings of Jesus Christ. We will be treated equally and rewarded equally. God’s generous ways are not our jealous ways, says Isaiah in the First Reading today (Isaiah 55:8).