Workers’ equality in the kingdom of God

The Vineyard Worker, a 1670s oil painting by Bernhard Keil

Jackieh, a library assistant, had to walk fast or run to be on time for work.  Tardiness would mean a salary deduction if her reason for being late is not acceptable.  

During the pandemic when the norm was to work from home, she set the alarm 10 minutes before 10 a.m., her time in, so there would be no issue of being late. As in the case of millions of other workers, her salary would be based on the number of hours of work done.

Jackieh, 33, has heard stories in her office of extra pay through a yearly profit-sharing scheme.  In the stories, the profit share was the same for all company employees, from the top officials to the clerks and drivers.  But that was long ago, and the scheme was dependent on the company’s income performance and other factors.  Times are hard, and Jackieh has yet to receive a profit share. 

In the Gospel for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time to be read in all Catholic churches today, Sept. 24, the message is that in the kingdom of God, equality of reward for work done is the norm.  It is the same for all workers whether they are on time or late, and for all time whether the overall performance or the harvest is good or bad.

In the vineyard

This vision of equality for all workers in the kingdom of God is shown in the parable of a landowner who calls for workers for his vineyard. 

The setting is a vineyard which, in the Hebrew Scriptures, symbolizes peace and prosperity (1 Kings 4:25, Mic 4:4). It is also the imagery of Israel as “God’s vineyard” (Isa 5:1-7; 27:2-6); the vineyard is Israel (Matt 21:33-46).

In his book, “The Gospel of Matthew,” RT (Dick) France wrote: “God’s kingship over Israel continues in his kingship over the disciples of Jesus.”  Most theologians today identify the landowner simply as God, the God of the Jews and of the believers of Jesus, the God of all. 

In a homily in September 2020, Pope Francis said the landowner represents God who calls everyone and calls always, at any hour. God does not stay shut within His World but “goes out,” the Pope also said. “He continually seeks out people, because He does not want anyone to be excluded from His loving plan.”

In the parable, recorded only by Matthew, the landowner first goes out at dawn to hire workers for his vineyard, and they begin to work after agreeing on the amount of the daily wage.  The landowner goes out four more times to call workersat 9 a.m., at noon, at 3 p.m., and at 5 p.m. When the last batch of workers are asked why they stood idle the whole day, they say it is because “no one has hired us,” indicating that they are the least desirable workers, unwanted and deemed unworthy, passed over by other employers. 


What is considered a surprise and a reversal in the story is that everyone who worked in the vineyard, regardless of the hours of work rendered, receives the same wage. Then and now, as in the case of the library assistant Jackieh, a worker’s wage is usually based on the work hours.  But not in the parable: All the workers whether called first or last get the same payment, or reward.

This giving of the same reward is met by complaints, even outrage. But the landowner insists on giving the same pay to every worker, even those who arrived last.  He keeps his promise of giving the agreed wage to the first batch of workers who rendered a full day’s work under the heat of the sun: It is an act of justice.  He gives the same pay to the latter batch of workers who worked for a lesser number of hours: It is an act of generosity and mercy. 

As Pope Francis says: “God does not pay halfway. He pays everything.” 

The parable tells us that God goes out of His way to invite us to His kingdom.  Everyone, even the most unworthy and the biggest sinner, is given not one but many chances to accept His invitation.  And all, be they the first or the last to answer His call, are to get the same full reward in His kingdom. 

This piece contains excerpts from the teaching commentary written by Minerva Generalao in . The author is an alumna of the Bat Kol Institute for Christian Studies, now the Jerusalem-based ISPS Ratisbonne Bat Kol-Christian Centre for Jewish Studies. —Ed.

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