The Sneaky Latecomers
In Matthew chapter 13, Jesus presents seven Kingdom parables. In today’s Gospel (Mt 20:1-16), Jesus presents us with another Kingdom parable. The underlying theme is ‘God’s generosity’ verses ‘human expectations’. How fair is God’s grace?
The parable is about the landowner who promises a day’s wage to different sets of people: the ‘early-birds’, the ‘nine-to-fives’, the ‘mid-nooners’, the ‘siesta-awakers’ and the ‘sneaky-late-comers’. The landowner is caught in a dilemma. There is a bountiful harvest to be gathered but the labourers are few. The landowner makes several visits to the marketplace. He knows the adage: “many hands make light work!” But God is more in search of winning hearts than willing hands.
When evening falls, its pay time. Those who toiled all day in the heat-of-the-sun and those who sneaked in the cool-of-the-evening await their rightful and just wage. They are in for a surprise. Jesus is a God of surprises. The logic of the ‘Divine-reversal’ is about to unfold. The last are rewarded first with a denarius each. Then, finally, the ‘early-birds’ who toiled the whole day are rightly paid a denarius each. They protest in anger. They grumble and complain about inequities, “This isn’t fair!” They argue, “Why should the ‘idlers’ at the marketplace, who sneaked in at the last hour, be paid a whole day’s wage?” “How could a loving God be so unfair?”
The Kingdom of God is built on GRACE. The landowner takes the time to educate and evangelise the labourers on how the Kingdom of God operates. Human jealousy cannot stand in the way of Divine generosity. “Why be envious because I am generous?”
The Kingdom of God is a welcome place for all. There is no place for ‘idleness-in the marketplace’. Above all, there is no place for envy or complain in the heart of a disciple. God never closes the door of the Kingdom to any sneaky latecomer. To the thief on Mount Calvary, Jesus promises him, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise!”
Our lives at times are caught up in the ‘idleness-of-the-market-place’ rather than being a ‘gatherer-in-the-Lord’s vineyard’. But God comes in search of you, wherever you are and whenever you are. His favourite word is, “Come gather with me!” Giving up the ‘idleness-of the market-place’ is not easy. The lure of spending hours on social media, on idle gossip and slander, on meaningless activity… the list goes on and on. But God does not give up on you. He walks up to you by the hour and calls you by name to a higher purpose of living and being!
The saint and the sinner, the graced and the ungraced, the churched and the unchurched are all paid with the Blood of Christ on Calvary. The Kingdom of Heaven is won because of God’s Grace and not because of ‘your work’. When we fall into the ‘trap of comparison’ – judging others as unworthy or sneaky – we misunderstand that the entire Kingdom of God is built on grace and mercy!
Fr Glenford Lowe