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The Everyday Prayer

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Icon of the Holy Face
Church of Sant'Egidio, Rome

Reading of the Word of God

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

You are a chosen race,
a royal priesthood, a holy nation,
a people acquired by God
to proclaim his marvellous works.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Matthew 20, 1-16

'Now 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 around, 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 saying,

"The men who came last 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 lastcomer as much as I pay you.

Have I no right to do what I like with my own? Why should you be envious because I am generous?"

Thus the last will be first, and the first, last.'


Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

You will be holy,
because I am holy, thus says the Lord.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

The parable reported by Matthew must have seemed very strange to those who were listening to Jesus: it was completely foreign from the common notion of a just wage. The actions of this vineyard owner, who gives the same pay to those who had worked the whole day and those who instead had only worked for an hour, are truly unusual. The story unfolds around the efforts of a winemaker who spends the whole day hiring workers for his vineyard. That day he left his house to find workers fully five times. He comes to an agreement with the first workers, who were called at dawn, of one denarius’s wage (the ordinary pay for a day’s work); he goes out again at nine in the morning and then at noon, at three, and finally at five. The answer that these last workers give to his invitation ("no one has hired us") makes us think of the many, young and less young, who are unemployed, not only and not especially in the sense of not having paid work, but those who do not have an opportunity to work for greater solidarity in the world. There are many people who are unemployed in this sense: they are the young people, perhaps disillusioned or perhaps enthralled by consumerism, who turn in on themselves and become simultaneously perpetrators and victims. They are victims of idleness because "no one has hired them." When evening comes, the parable continues, the owner begins to pay the workers. Each of the last ones receives a denarius. When the first see what is happening, they think they will get more. It is logical for them to think like this and perhaps even just. Their surprise at being treated like the last leads them to grumble against the owner; they are tempted to say, "this is not fair." And in effect those who hear the parable (as perhaps we would be) are inclined to share these feelings. But this is precisely what separates Jesus’ way of thinking from ours. First of all, we must clarify that Jesus is not giving a lesson in social justice, nor is he presenting one of the normal owners of this world who rightly pay according to the services they have received. He is presenting an absolutely exceptional person, one who treats those who work for him in a manner that goes beyond the rules of law. Jesus wants to show us an extraordinary Father: his goodness, his magnanimity, and his mercy, which exceed the common feelings of humanity. They truly exceed them as much as the heavens are above the earth, as Isaiah writes. Unfortunately, goodness and mercy still cause grumbling and scandal today. But it is not that God gives his wages arbitrarily, more to some and less to others. God does not act unjustly. The breadth of his goodness pushes him to give to all according to their need. God’s justice does not work according to abstract principles of equity, but according to the needs of his children. There is great wisdom here. And the wage given to all is the consolation that comes from being called to work in the Lord’s vineyard, whether or not one has been there for a long or short time.

Memory of the Saints and the Prophets