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25th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Meditation Reflection: Matthew 20:1-16
The kingdom of Heaven, from which Jesus came, far exceeds any social construct we observe on earth. Here our relationships, from the inter-national to the personal, become skewed due to our two greatest weaknesses – pride and envy.
It’s childish really. Parents and elementary school teachers tire from the petty cases brought to them over and again throughout the day by children seeking “justice.” Moreover, in family life it can spiral out of control as one act of pride or envy against another is fought with counter measures of pride and envy and so on. Something is borrowed or stolen depending on who you ask, something gets taken in retaliation, and the then the yelling ensues. Someone gets knocked over by accident and retaliates with an intentional shove. Rather than accept their own guilt for their personal bad reaction, kids try to pass on blame and push parents to the classic question, “Who started it?” As everyone points fingers and clamor for justice, the poor mom and dad beg the kids to settle down and just be merciful with one another.
St. Paul tells us, “Love is patient, love is kind…” In other words, love tries to be understanding instead of over-reacting. Love shows compassion toward weakness, even weakness of character. Love is generous rather than miserly. Love doesn’t look out for #1, it looks out for the beloved.
Jesus’ parable of the landowner and day laborers illustrates the striking difference between our natural inclination and experience in contrast to the attitude characteristic of the kingdom of Heaven. When I hear this parable, I know that I shouldn’t agree with the laborers who were upset, but I can’t help empathizing with their feeling of disappointment, and even injustice. I hate to admit that even thoughts of, “why weren’t the guys the landowner found in the afternoon not there in the morning?” Even worse, my imagination considers multiple reasons they were late, all being their own fault or the result of vice. However, Jesus knows our fallen thoughts, so He includes important details in the parable to counter such accusations. Thus, prior to hiring the last crew at 5:00, He asked them why they had been standing there idle all day. They responded with an innocent explanation – no one had hired them. “Exposed!”, as my kids would say. My thoughts reveal a childish attitude of rivalry rather than a mature disposition of love.
But what about the unfair pay? And why did the landowner pay the last men first in front of everyone else? Every parent knows if you plan to treat one kid and not the others on a particular day, at least keep it on the down-low. You spontaneously stop for DQ with one of your sons on the way home from a baseball game? Only a rookie parent would fail to have the ice cream finished being eaten and all evidence thrown away in an inconspicuous garbage before entering the house. Never mind that you make a point to treat the other kids individually too at various times. If one kid walks in the house with a half-eaten blizzard, mutinous anarchy erupts.
One stray DQ napkin, and the moment the door to the van opens the other kids point and yell “What?! You went without us? Unfair!!!” Their envious rivalry takes all spontaneity out of love. On the surface, the laborers’ disappointment seems fair, however Jesus revealed that it stems from envy. Next to pride, envy is the most cited root of the many social and personal ills discussed in the Catechism.
Jesus invites us to consider a different way of thinking, living, and being. To imagine a kingdom free of pride, envy, ambition, lust, and selfishness we must think of it in terms of love. Not the fluffy, emotional kind of love. Rather, courageous and deep love which wills the good of the other and finds joy in sacrifice if it means enriching or healing the beloved. Jesus compares His relationship with us to the love a groom has for his bride, willing to give everything even at a sacrifice, and with great joy. He compares our interconnection with one another to a body united to Him as its head. Thus, one person’s pain is shared by everyone, and one person’s gain is rejoiced in by everyone.
Consider the parable again from Christ’s perspective. The men the landowner found late in the day were aimless, anxious, and in danger of starvation. If they did not work that day, they would not have a day’s wage and would be unable to provide for themselves and their families. They owned no land to provide them with some kind of security. They had no annual salary, health insurance, or any kind of future protection. They lived day to day, always uncertain about tomorrow. The first men hired physically toiled longer, but they also had the peace of mind that at least for that day they would have a wage and therefore food. Moreover, there’s a certain dignity related to putting in a hard day’s work. If those without work were strangers, it would be easier to rationalize competitiveness. Imagine however that the ones hired later are your sons or daughters, or close friends. It would be hard to truly enjoy your wage knowing how worried you might be that they only worked a few hours that day and would earn too little to eat enough on. Upon seeing your beloved child or friend provided a full day’s wage, you would rejoice with them as well as enjoy your own wage more because your friend received the same. You would also rejoice that they had the opportunity to be productive and their work valued.
Jesus invites us all into His Kingdom. He finds us standing idle, looking for meaning and purpose, waiting for Truth and Mercy. He promises a generous wage for working for Him – the gift of enduring love, authentic meaning, and eternal happiness with Him. If we love our neighbor, we will feel pained seeing them still standing idle, wasting the day, impoverished and anxious. We would want the same reward for them that we received from Christ no matter when they joined His crew. In fact, to have labored with the Lord, is a gift in and of itself.
- Consider how quickly we tend to assume the worst about a person. When have you misjudged someone’s intentions or situation? How might you see others through the lens of love rather than rivalry?
- Consider the dignity of work. When have you put in a hard day’s work and loved it? Why does it feel good to be productive?
- Consider the joy connected to laboring out of love. Which tasks would seem ridiculous to take pleasure in if you didn’t love the person?
- Consider the contrast between envy and love. Envy becomes angry at another’s blessings; love rejoices when another is blessed. Envy competes for what it believes to be limited resources or opportunities. Love understands that God can bless everyone.
Make a Resolution (Practical Application):
- Combat envy with the opposite virtues of contentedness and gratitude. Do one thing each day this week to nurture contentedness and express gratitude.
~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019