World Day of Migrants and Refugees
Only God Sees the Full Picture / Amazing Generosity
Philippians 1.20-24, 27
Matthew 20. 1 – 16
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew.
Jesus spoke this parable to his disciples: “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who
went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the
labourers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about
nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also
go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.
“When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about
five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘why are
you standing here idle all day? They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to
them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’
“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the labourers
and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those
hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage.
“Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also
received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the
landowner, saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us
who have bore the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them,
‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take
what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not
allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am
“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
In Our Lord’s time Judaism had reached a legalistic state, and the mentality was prevalent that
salvation could and must be earned. There were many commands which must be fulfilled, and
people were divided into two classes, the righteous who were on the road to salvation by fulfilling
the commands, and the unrighteous, outcasts despised by those who kept the law. It was this slot-
machine conception of God that Jesus opposed by his emphasis on love, for in love there is no
calculation of duties, rights and obligations; there is only an open-handed giving without counting
the cost, and a grateful receiving. We can never say that we have earned our salvation, or anything
from God, but can only stand suppliant before him. The latest workers in the vine-yard have not
earned what the owner gives them, and the mistake of their envious colleagues is to think that they
can deserve well of the owner.
Devout Christians may find it hard to stomach that someone who repents on his deathbed is
admitted to the kingdom no less than those who have struggled and suffered all their lives for
what is right. But this would presuppose a commercial attitude of reward and punishments from
God, and it neglects the nature of love. The relationship of the believer to God must be personal
love, and as such it is its own reward, for it brings its own happiness also in this life. The greater
the struggle, the more a Christian turns to God and finds comfort in the security of his love. Also,
fidelity through a long life does bring some advantage over a skimpy final conversion, for it may
well be that the relationship of love has so deepened over the years that the Christian, faithfully
following Christ, has more capacity for the full enjoyment of God’s company than one who comes
to know God only at the last moment. Here it is not a matter of God giving a greater reward, but
of the person being more capable of receiving it.
Of this deep and rewarding relationship with God and with Christ Paul shows himself in the
second reading to be a shining example. Writing as he does under persecution he is yet filled with
the joy of Christ. His life is already united with Christ’s life, and he longs for the fulfilment of
Prophet Isaiah brings home to us, among other things, the disconcerting message that God’s ways
are not our ways. God has His own way of dealing with us that may not always please us. We
human beings try in vain to create God in our image but God is not like us; we are created, called
and given the mission to become like Him in our lives.
The invitation of Jesus is to become perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. This does not mean
that God is a dictator who has no concern or love for His people; rather, it means God invites us to
share in His nature and is extremely extravagant in His love, mercy ad affection. This is proved
beyond doubt through the parable in today’s Gospel.
The parable of the vineyard workers teaches many powerful lessons. It can be compared to the
story of the prodigal son (Lk 15:11ff). When the prodigal son returns home to the unconditional
and forgiving love of his father, the elder son cannot stomach it. He uncharitably labels and
despises his younger brother and refuses to come home. The parable of the vineyard-workers is
no blueprint for labour relations, but it illustrates very well Jesus’ teaching about grace and mercy.
The labourers are angry and arguing with the owner, not because they are underpaid or unpaid,
but because the latecomers are paid an equal amount. This, according to them, is injustice ad they
begin questioning the owner of the vineyard. There are consequences to be drawn, and, in The
Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis wrote: “The Church must be a place of mercy freely given, where
everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel.”
When the full-timers complain to the owner, he insists, “I do you no injustice,” and then he adds a
rider, “I am free to do as I please with my money, am I not?” To this question, the complainers
can answer only in the affirmative. The owner has one more thing to say which reveals the very
heart of the parable. “Are you envious because I am generous?”
God’s generosity with us goes far beyond any human calculation. God’s ways are not our ways.
The parable is ultimately about God’s generosity in grating salvation, something we can never
deserve, but which is given to us so freely and unconditionally because of the love He has for each
one of us. At the literary level of the narrative we tend to focus on hours ad wages. At a deeper
level, this a story about God’s ways and His justice: what God is offering is not wages but
salvation which is the same for everyone. The surprise in the parable is that God’s justice is not
eared at all, but it is God’s free gift and He gives it generously.
How do we fit into the parable? Jesus came to establish the kingdom of heaven ad to redeem us
all. We are all children of one Father, who awaits us with open arms. The beauty and the most
encouraging part is that we can come to this kingdom whenever we are called. The latecomers are
asked, “Because no one has hired us.” Jesus does not go into the details of why they have not
been called or hired, whether they are useless or lazy people or belonging to some other class,
caste or race…. They are simply hired. They are willing to come into the vineyard. It is not the
number of hours they work that brings the reward, but their willingness to be part of the work and,
more specifically, the call they receive from the owner. The workers become sharers of the
generosity by becoming part of the vineyard.
The parable gives a precious insight into God’s magnanimity. He wants us to be His partners in
the kingdom and to enjoy His presence. It does not matter when we respond to His invitation. He
invites to His kingdom whomever He pleases, whenever He pleases. No one has any advantage
over anyone else when it comes to God’s kingdom. The truth of the matter is: God offers
salvation to all out of His own magnanimity and compassion.
When all is said and done, what is the reward, if we are to translate this parable into the reality of
our life? Jesus himself. Jesus gives Himself wholly, fully to each of us. St. Paul praises ‘fruitful
labour’, he even boast of his own. “Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by
life or by death. For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that
means fruitful labour for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the
two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better, but to remain I the flesh is
more necessary for you. Live your life in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ” (Phil 1.20-24,
27). But there is never any doubt where the meaning of it all is to be found: “Christ will be
magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me life is Christ and death is gain.
Paul’s life: “For to me to live is Christ, ad to die is gain.” (1.21). The one word that Paul used to
describe his life was “Christ.” Paul was certainly not claiming to be the Anointed One. Rather,
his whole being, his very purpose, his daily walk was so closely bound to the Lord Jesus that he
could honestly say that “Christ” was his life. If a person is so devoted to and gives his all to his
job, we might say that his job is his life. If one is so dedicated to and gives his entire heart and
soul to his family, then we could say that his family is his life. What one word would best
describe your life on earth? Again, Paul was so committed to Jesus and His Cause that the Christ
– He was the apostle’s life, his whole reason for living. Hear what else Paul said about his early
life: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the
life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave
Himself for me” (Gal 2:20). Is that what the world ad our God see in us? Do they see that our
lives are centered in Christ?
Paul’s Potential Gain: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (1:21). Paul does not deny
the reality of death. Unless we are alive when Jesus comes again, we all will exit this world
through physical death (Hebrews 9:27). Let us be clear: death is not a “gain” for every single
person. When one dies, that ends any earthly suffering that he might have endured due to disease
or other physical infirmities. that ends any earthly suffering that he might have endured due to
disease or other physical infirmities. Yet, if he does not die “in the Lord” (Revelation 14:13), then
there is no real gain. If he does not die in the Lord, then he must face a never-ending suffering
known as “everlasting punishment” (Matthew 25:46). On the encouraging side, though, is the
reality of enjoying eternal life in the world to come (Mark 10:30). That blessing, also described as
“the crown of life,” is reserved for those that love the Lord (James 1:12). Or, as we have seen in
Philippians 1, the true, spiritual “gain” is for those who magnify the Lord (1:20) and whose life
can be called “Christ” (1:21).
Paul’s Labor: “But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor.” (1:22). If Paul
could have sung “I want to be a worker for the Lord . . . I will work, I will pray, I will labor every
day, in the vineyard of the Lord,” would there have been any evidence in his life that he really did
work for the Master? Without doubt! Paul was not interested in receiving the praises of men. He
simply wanted to be a servant of the Christ (Galatians 1:10). He taught the lost, he edified the
saints, he lifted the spirits of the downhearted, he served those in need, and so much more. Those
that glorify God are those that bear much fruit. Jesus said so (John 15:8). Where there is no labor,
there can be no fruit. You and I will never be apostles. So what?! We can still work for the Lord!
Yes, we must work for Him. There was a part of Paul that wanted to remain on the earth and work
with and for the church (1:24).
Paul’s Desire: There was a choice, though, that Paul said was far better. What is that? “For I am
hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better”
(1:23). From Luke 16:19-31 we learn that after death, one (one’s spirit) goes to a place known as
“Hades.” There, those that have been faithful to the Lord will be “comforted” (Luke 16:25) and
are said to be “present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). While heaven is our ultimate hope and
final place of rest (1 Peter 1:3,4), there is a sense in which departed saints are “with Christ” (1:23)
in Hades. My brother or sister, what is your greatest desire in life? If it is anything other than
living in such a way that you will be able to depart to be with the Lord, then do not expect your
death to be a “gain,” because it will not be.
We will never write inspired letters like Paul did. Hopefully we will never be in bonds as he was
when he wrote the Book of Philippians. But, we can emulate his attitude and work ethic. We can
imitate his devotion to our Lord. Think on these things.