A reflection by Fr. John Carten, SFM, on Matthew 20.1–16
In today’s Gospel, Matthew challenges us to promote peace by opening up to others and seeing everyone as children of God. He tells a parable that Jesus spoke to rebuke the Jewish Christians in Antioch for being too slow to accept Gentile Christians into their community. The newly born church was comprised primarily of Jewish Christians. Gradually, many Gentiles joined the church community, bringing with them strange customs and often ignoring the dietary laws that were familiar to the Jewish Christians. The Jewish Christians were not comfortable in welcoming these new followers of Jesus.
In the parable, a rich landowner, who represents God, hired labourers to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a very fair wage – eternal life. Now the trouble was that he was willing to pay the same wage to those who came along at the last hour (the Gentiles) as he paid to those who worked from the early morning. Of course, to the Jewish Christians it just did not seem fair. Nor does it seem fair to us either.
The parable serves to makes us aware of how incredibly different God’s ways of acting are from ours. The prophet Isaiah (55.8) tells us: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord”.
Matthew’s changing church community was challenged to welcome the new Gentile Christians as brothers and sisters. Our world as well is being changed by the strangers, outsiders, refugees and migrant workers who come into our land. Many of their customs and religions are foreign to us. But like the early Christians, we too are being called to open up and welcome them. Just as the Pharisees could not believe that God’s love could extend to – the Gentiles, the prostitutes, the tax collectors and the sinners – so too, many of us want to set limits to who is acceptable to God. We try to limit God’s love. It’s like saying, “God loves everyone but God loves us Christians just a little bit more!”
You and I, as followers of Jesus, as the church community today, are called to be signs of God’s love for everyone, even those who hate us. We are called to reach out across barriers that divide people, just as Jesus did in his day.
As I reflected on the theme today, I remembered a song sung by Dianne Warwick in 1965 that goes, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of. What the world needs now is love, sweet love, not for only some but for everyone! ”
This is how the gospel challenges us today, to be ambassadors of peace and love. With St Francis of Assisi, let us pray, today and every day, “Make me a channel of your peace, where there is hatred, let me bring your love!”
Thanks to Fr. John Carten and other SFM priests for providing reflections in recent weeks via this SFM Blog route. Like many others, I’ve found this particular parable rather difficult to understand and even accept. But one key word helped to clarify matters (at least for me) – equating the promised fair wage to “eternal life”.
Question: how does one explain this parable to the Pension Dept at companies where the pension depends on the years of service the employee has worked – from a lifetime to a few years?
Great reflection, John! See you in a few weeks!
Good use of music and prayer of St. Francis – touch stones for many people.