Some of us can probably resonate with the Gospel reading for today, feeling unjust for the workers who were hired first as it does seem unfair to be paid the same wage as those who only worked for 1 hour, bearing the work under the terrible heat for the entire day. Why should they be paid the same as me, I worked harder than them, how could they have it so easy? These could be some of our thoughts if we put ourselves in the shoes of the workers who were hired by the landowner at the start of the day. If the landowner represents God, how can God be so unfair, we may ask ourselves.

This parable can be unsettling at first and challenges our yardsticks and values. Let us put things into context to understand the parable better, during Jesus’ time, many small farmers were being forced off their land because of the debt they incurred to pay Roman taxes. Consequently, large pools of unemployed men gathered each morning, hoping to be hired for the day.

You will notice there were 5 groups of workers hired at different times throughout the day. Those hired at dawn were assured of an agreed wage and no longer need to worry whether they can find work to feed their family for the rest of the day. All they need to do is to provide labour, as agreed with the landowner. As the day progressed, 3 other groups of workers were hired, but without a specific wage. The landowner promised to pay “what is just” and the workers trusted the landowner at his word, they received their wages without complaint or envy of others. The last group of workers had been waiting for the entire day for a job, they knew they had little chance of earning enough to buy food for their families, they must be feeling anxious and maybe even in despair during those long hours of waiting. Imagine their joy and gratitude when they got the job and received their earnings due to the generosity of the landowner!

By now, we probably can relook at the first group of workers from another perspective. What were the real intentions behind their grumblings? Were they feeling unhappy out of an act of self-righteousness, envy, or jealousy? They were paid the agreed wage & yet they felt they were treated unjustly. What yardsticks were they using to conclude that the landowner was unjust? As the first reading from Isaiah (55:8) goes, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways.” Like the first hires, sometimes we may react in situations with presumed righteous intentions when in fact, it could be our envy that blinds us. The landowner, whose decision to pay all the workers the same was an act of mercy, not injustice, he represents God whose grace and mercy are given abundantly to those He chooses.

We all have a choice in our thoughts, words and actions regarding the situations we face in our daily lives. All of us receive and benefit from His divine mercy, an unmerited favour, will it be right for us to demand and expect from God any presumed rights based on justice, or to complain and envy others when they also received His love? While we desire mercy from God, we should also desire mercy for others. Seeing how merciful God is with us requires that we try to be merciful with others too.

Trust in God our Father’s love and know that everything He does is right and just. Aspire to be like the group of trusting hires who placed everything in the landowner’ hands, willingly accepting whatever earnings the landowner deems as just.

Written by: Rachel Ong