Friends, the parable of the vineyard that Jesus tells in today’s Gospel is one of the most disturbing of all. Keep in mind that upsetting us is one of the main purposes of a parable, stories that invent new worlds by inverting this one.
We know the outline of the story well: a landowner goes out to hire workers for his field, hiring them at different times during the day. Then, at the close of work, he pays each the same wage. When those hired earlier complain, the owner contends, “Am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?”
Do any of us really find this answer satisfying? Don’t most of us instinctually side with the complainers? Have you noticed that the one virtue that even little children seem implicitly to understand is justice: “It’s just not fair!” Well, this just doesn’t seem fair.
But we should squint at this story through the lens of the prophet Isaiah’s reminder that God’s ways are not our ways. Does this story represent an undermining of justice? No; rather, it is a showing forth of the justice that flows from God’s vision of things.