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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

This parable in Matthew would have seemed very strange to Jesus’ listeners: it was in fact completely removed from the usual justice regarding salaries. The gesture of the vineyard owner, who gives the same pay to those who had worked all day as well as to those who had worked for just an hour, is truly unusual. The narrative develops around the initiative of a vine grower who is worried all day about hiring workers for his vineyard. During the day he leaves home five times to call workers. With the first workers, called at dawn, he stipulates the compensation (the normal pay for a day’s work); he leaves again at nine in the morning, then at noon, at three and finally at five. The response that the last workers give to his invitation, “Because no one has hired us,” reminds us of so many young people, and not so young, who are unemployed, not so much for lack of a paid job but because they cannot build a life in solidarity with others. There are so many unemployed in this sense: the youth, who could be disillusioned or subjugated to consumerism and fall back on themselves, executioners and victims at the same time. They are victims of idleness because “no one wants to hire them for the day.” When evening came, the parable continues, the payments begin. The last ones receive one coin each. The first, having seen what happens, think they are going to receive more. It is logical, perhaps even just, to think that way. Surprised at seeing themselves treated in the same way as the last ones causes them to mutter against the owner: “This is not right” is what they are tempted to say. And in fact those who listen to the parable (and perhaps even we) share these feelings. But here is the distance between Jesus’ way of thinking and ours. It must be clarified that, above al, Jesus does not want to impart a lesson in social justice, nor does he seek to introduce a common businessman of this world who pays his workers according to the work completed. Rather, Jesus presents someone who is absolutely exceptional, a person who treats his subjects in a way that is beyond legal rules. Jesus wants to show an extraordinary Father, whose goodness, magnanimity and mercy go far beyond the common sentiments we have. They go as far beyond as the distance between heaven and earth, as Isaiah describes. Unfortunately, even today, goodness and mercy create murmuring and scandal. But God does not distribute payment capriciously, giving to some more and to some less. God does not act unjustly. The breadth of his goodness impels him to give to all according to their need. God’s justice does not operate according to an abstract principle of equity, but according to the need of his children. Here there is great wisdom. The recompense given to all is the consolation which comes from being called to work in the vineyard of the Lord; it does not matter if one has been in the vineyard for a long or a little time.

Memory of the Saints and the Prophets