‘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? (Mt 20:13-14)
When we think of a generous person we often think of one who is wealthy or of sufficient means who gives often to those in need. Therefore in religious terms when we speak of God’s generosity we recall his act of creation when he takes from his own great store of truth, beauty, and goodness to form a physical universe which has within it the sustenance necessary for all his living creatures.
Generosity also bespeaks a specific attitude of kindness in conversation and association. For example, a person engaged in an argument will be generous for allowing the other person to speak in his turn, one in authority will be generous for raising up those under his care, while a newsman will be generous in reporting all the facts regardless of his personal political position. Generosity in this sense is a sort of “principle of charity” in social engagement which betokens a never out-of-fashion truthfulness and courtesy to all.
In this Sunday’s gospel reading we learn more about God’s generosity. We read how God calls various people to come to work in his vineyard. These are not busy, working-people but those “standing idle in the marketplace”. This relates to those who have not yet taken up the call to work in the Kingdom of God. In this parable Jesus is specifically teaching the Jews who have a long-standing covenant with God (for their “daily wage”) to accept those who will now be invited by God to receive an equal wage of grace through His messianic mission. These others (non-Jews) may not have worked as long, not endured as long, but because of the generosity of God and their acceptance of God’s gracious invitation, will receive the same remuneration. The spiritual lesson for us today is that those of us who have received God’s grace should not be envious but glad for its bequeathal to others; for grace is not earned but freely given.
For this 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, we place on our bulletin cover a work by the great Dutch master Rembrandt, Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard (1637). Rembrandt is the great practitioner of tenebrism where darkness prevails until it is itself prevailed upon by a single source of artistic illumination. (If fact, we have brightened Rembrandt’s original image so that the painted figures on our bulletin cover may be more easily seen).
Rembrandt portrays the landowner just as he completes his distribution of wages. The day laborers are all still standing in line. Yet already two who worked the longer day begin disputing with the vineyard owner for more pay. One puts out his hand to receive more, the second motions in anger to those behind him who have received equal pay and who are seen amazed and reveling in the generosity of the owner. The landowner puts his hand over his heart to indicate his sincerity to the unsatisfied workers while Rembrandt signals to us that the landowner is God by the blessing which the landowner offers over the wages that he gives.
The wages that God gives is grace. God distributes his grace in varying amounts as he sees fit. As his gracious children we are to celebrate when it is given – and as it is given – in equal or in greater amounts to others.
-Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services