Podcast Reflections

Reflection on Matthew 20.1-16 (2022 Week 20)

Listen to a reflection for Wednesday 17 August 2022 on Matthew 20.1-16

Matthew 20.1-16

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the labourers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the market-place; and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?” They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.” When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the labourers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.” When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’


The landowner said: Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?

Even though we may not have great wealth, many of us can understand these words. What we have has often been earned as a result of hard toil and some degree of self-sacrifice. As we grow older we amass money and possessions. We come to the point of seeing that money and those possessions as being ours to dispose of as we wish, and with no thought for the sensibilities and needs of others. The greater our worldly wealth the poorer we become in the spirit of generosity and love. The meanness that comes with the growth of wealth is not just a failing of the individual, it is also the way in which much business is conducted … including the business of the Church.

In today’s reading we hear of a wealthy and generous landowner. Wealthy because he seems to have an unlimited need for people to work in his fields. Generous because of his willingness to pay all his employees the same wage. However, his wealth and his generosity are turned into causes for complaint and criticism because of the greed of those from whom he might expect the higher level of respect and gratitude.

The landowner in Jesus’ parable can be seen as representing God, of course. Those whom he employs to work in his vineyard are the faithful ones who have responded to God’s call in their lives. For some, the response to God’s call comes instantaneously and without any moment of hesitation or uncertainty. Such people are presented to us as those who worked in the vineyard for the whole day. For others, the response to God’s call is slower and comes later in life. These people are represented by those who join the landowner’s workforce at later times in the day. Wherever anyone might be on that gradual and evolving timescale, the reward for faithful discipleship remains the same. The wages of the labourer in God’s vineyard is eternal life. There is no bonus that can be added to such a generous salary!

But … then comes the human response to God’s generosity. We want more. No matter how great the reward we find ways of justifying our demand for something bigger and better. In effect, despite a life of faithful discipleship, we can so often find ourselves distanced from God because we are tempted into the pride and greed that form the gulf between our heavenly Father and humanity.

Let us pray that we might follow God’s call in humility and generosity of spirit. Let us pray that we might rejoice as we see others join the company of the faithful. Let us pray that we might not succumb to those sinful attitudes which undermine our capacity to shine as beacons of Christian love and joy in this world.