25 Sunday year A
Equity:To each according to his need
✠ A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew 20:1-16
1. Jesus said to his disciples: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner going out at daybreak to hire workers for his vineyard. He made an agreement with the workers for one denarius a day, and sent them to his vineyard. Going out at about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market place and said to them, “You go to my vineyard too and I will give you a fair wage.” So they went. At about the sixth hour and again at about the ninth hour, he went out and did the same. Then at about the eleventh hour he went out and found more men standing round, and he said to them, “Why have you been standing here idle all day?” “Because no one has hired us” they answered. He said to them, “You go into my vineyard too.” In the evening, the owner of the vineyard said to his bailiff, “Call the workers and pay them their wages, starting with the last arrivals and ending with the first.” So those who were hired at about the eleventh hour came forward and received one denarius each. When the first came, they expected to get more, but they too received one denarius each. They took it, but grumbled at the landowner. “The men who came last” they said “have done only one hour, and you have treated them the same as us, though we have done a heavy day’s work in all the heat.” He answered one of them and said, “My friend, I am not being unjust to you; did we not agree on one denarius? Take your earnings and go. I choose to pay the last comer as much as I pay you. Have I no right to do what I like with my own? Why be envious because I am generous?” Thus the last will be first, and the first, last.’
2. Today’s readings dwell on the incomprehensible way of God when compared to that of human beings. God has his way of doing things which sometimes gets beyond our human calculations. In the first reading (Is 55:6-9), the prophet declared that God’s ways are not our ways. His standards of judgement and reward are different from ours. He advised that all that we need to do in walking with God is turn away from wickedness and know that God is rich in mercy and forgiveness.
3. The enormity of the compassionate heart of God and his incomprehensible standard of reward is better demonstrated in the gospel through the parable of the landowner who hired at all hours of the day. This parable has features that most Nigerians will understand. In most cities in Nigeria, skilled and unskilled labourers congregate every morning in the labour market to look for those who will hire them for the day. They normally come out early with their work tools. Some get early job, some others stay till noon and some even will go home in the evening without having been hired for the day. One therefore understands the landowner, who, going out in the morning, by 9 am, 3 pm and 5 pm still found people who have not been hired. With the first group he agreed on a price. With the others he simply gave his word that he will pay them what he considers just.
4. At the time for payment, the landowner decided to pay the same amount to all, irrespective of the number of hours put in. His decision may have been influenced by the fact that he knows that the labourers all depend on their daily pay to take care of their families and the daily pay is actually not much, not more than 500 naira (1 denarius). Paying less would be logical but will not help much. He decided to employ what Karl Marx would in the 19th century formulate as the marxist’s principle of work and remuneration: To each according to his needs and from each according to his ability (his opportunities). This is the principle of equity in practical moral. The early comers were not happy and grumbled against the landowner. But he reassured them that he was not unjust with them. He paid them the agreed sum but decided to be generous with others because he knows their needs. In capitalism this will be faulted but in the kingdom economy it is correct.
5. Today’s parable brings out some principles of the social teachings of the church and stands as a warning to those who pretend to be stakeholders in the church of God. It shows that:
a. Every person has the right to work and the right to just remuneration: the landowner that kept going out to employ those who are out and ready to work stands for God who wants every person to have opportunity to contribute in making the world a better place. His attitude challenges us to create work for people who are ready to work, each person in his own capacity. All who can, should create work and employ people. This goes against unnecessary amassing of wealth that we witness among Nigeria politicians and public office holders who refuse to invest their hoard and prefer to stock them in foreign banks. The attitude of the generous land owner equally challenges us to practice equity in paying our workers. “To each according to his need, from each according to his ability.”
b. Heaven is a gratuitous gift of God: the parable is about the kingdom of God. It is therefore a warning to the disciples that after them God will continue to bring people into the household. Nobody should therefore see himself/herself as early comer who has more right than others. The first could become the last. All that is needed is to keep doing what one has to do as a member of the kingdom, trusting that the just God will always be just in his reward. One who joins the faith today can die a saint tomorrow while one who, like Judas, joined at the beginning, could end up throwing himself out of the kingdom.
6. Like St. Paul in the second reading, (Phil 1:20-24,27), try to avoid anything that is unworthy of the kingdom, applying equity in your treatment of others especially those who by their work depend on your generosity for their subsistence. If you are consistent in doing this, it would not really matter when you joined the race. You are surely going to be found in the kingdom.