This week’s Gospel (Matthew 20: 1-16a) tells of a vineyard owner hiring and paying his workers. Some workers work all day. Others come at noon. Still others start work at three in the afternoon. The last group comes at five in the afternoon. In the evening, much to everyone’s surprise, everyone is paid the same! When those who worked all day complain, the landowner replies, “What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?”
At this point, those of us who are being honest should probably nod in agreement. How many times have we complained to God, “That’s not fair!” We see someone else having success (whether that be related to family, work, or health concerns) that we feel should be rightfully ours, and we protest. “But God, I’ve worked and worked and prayed and prayed, and she did so little and got what I wanted!” How many times have we resented another’s supposedly undeserved good fortune? This Gospel tells us we have no reason to do so. God can do exactly as He wishes – His generosity knows no bounds.
Of course, this works on a spiritual level as well. Those of us who have been faithful Christians all of our lives can wonder about a God who rejoices in and welcomes the sinner who repents at the last moment of life. Think of the criminal hanging on the cross next to Jesus, whom Jesus informs, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
Like the workers who labored all day, we complain, “That’s not fair! How can that person receive the same reward as someone who has lived a good life all of his days?” We can start by taking a hearty dose of humility and realize that none of us is without sin. Jesus died for all of us. He opened the doors of heaven for all of us. We are all in need of His mercy.
Does this mean we should live a hedonistic, selfish life, ignore the Ten Commandments, and plan to convert at the last moment? Of course not. We have heard the Gospel and are called to live it. Plus, death can come like the thief in the night. One can never be sure that one will have that opportunity to have that change of heart.
What it does mean is that we should rejoice when people change their ways, no matter how late in the day that conversion may come. There is hope for every living person, even the hardened sinner and the person who has hurt us most deeply. We should pray always for others to make it to heaven.
It also means that we should trust in God’s mercy and love. We have a generous God. We should not question His ways, but rather trust in them and be thankful for them.