Jesus does not see things as we do. Time and time again in his parables, he turns our expectations upside down and helps us to see things in a different light. Today, he tells the story of the landowner who pays the same wages to all his workers – those who were hired at the crack of dawn and those who only joined late in the day. Naturally, the ‘early birds’ are put out by this – they feel it is unjust, even though they received the wage they were promised.
Maybe we sympathise with the complainers. In our individualistic society, we can fall into the trap of thinking that only certain people deserve good things. Those who work hard, who are law-abiding, who make the most of opportunities – they deserve a decent standard of living. Think of how often we hear people complaining about those who are struggling, saying they do not deserve assistance or ‘handouts’? Such criticisms fail to take into account that not everyone has the same opportunities or privileges in life. But in this parable of Jesus, the landowner treats everyone the same, regardless of their productivity. He recognises that not all of them had the same opportunity – some were just luckier than others, in the right place at the right time. God is just and generous, and he expects us to have the same respect for everyone, regardless of their position in life.
Sadly we do not live in an equal world where everyone’s dignity is respected and everyone has equal opportunities. In this Season of Creation, we are mindful in particular of the world’s poor who suffer most as a result of environmental destruction – damage that is often caused by the comfortable lifestyles of others.
‘Enlighten those who possess power and money
that they may avoid the sin of indifference,
that they may love the common good, advance the weak,
and care for this world in which we live.
The poor and the earth are crying out.’ (Pope Francis, Laudato Si’)
© Tríona Doherty, The Deep End, Intercom, Veritas