GOSPEL COMMENTARY: THE PARABLE OF THE LABOURERS IN THE VINEYARD ( Mt 20:1–16).
Jesus told his disciples this parable: “The Kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. Going out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.’
So they went off.
And he went out again around noon, and around three o’clock, and did likewise. Going out about five o’clock, he found others standing around, and said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’ When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’ When those who had started about five o’clock came, each received the usual daily wage. So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage. And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’ He said to one of them in reply, ‘My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?’ Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Gospel Commentary from the Navarre Bible, Commentary to the Gospel of St. Matthew (with permission)
- 1-16 SUMMARY OF IDEAS
- This parable is addressed to the Jewish people, whom God called at an early hour, centuries ago.
- Now the Gentiles are also being called — with an equal right to form part of the new people of God, the Church.
- In both cases it is a matter of a gratuitous, unmerited, invitation; therefore, those who were the “first” to receive the call have no grounds for complaining when God calls the “last” and gives them the same reward — membership of his people.
- At first sight the labourers of the first hour seem to have a genuine grievance — because they do not realize that to have a job in the Lord’s vineyard is a divine gift. Jesus leaves us in no doubt that although he calls us to follow different ways, all receive the same reward — heaven.
- 2 “Denarius”: a silver coin bearing an image of Caesar Augustus (Mt 22:19-21).
- 3 The Jewish method of calculating time was different from ours.
- They divided the whole day into eight parts, four night parts (called “watches”) and four day parts (called “hours”) — the first, third, sixth and ninth hour.
- The first hour began at sunrise and ended around nine o’clock; the third ran to twelve noon; the sixth to three in the afternoon; and the fourth from three to sunset. This meant that the first and ninth hours varied in length, decreasing in autumn and winter and increasing in spring and summer and the reverse happening with the first and fourth watches.
- Sometimes intermediate hours were counted — as for example in v. 6 which refers to the eleventh hour, the short period just before sunrise, the end of the working day.
- 16 The Vulgate, other translations and a good many Greek codexes add: “For many are called, but few are chosen” (cf. Mt 22:14).
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