Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Cardinal Ratzinger wrote back in 1968 that the name God revealed to Moses at the sight of the burning bush was completely unique. The second part of the name was: I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. At that time in history the gods were always associated with places like a shrine, a tree, a rock and one had to go to that location to pray to that particular god. But our God is a god of persons that he loves and that he goes looking for. This is seen very clearly in the attitude of the vineyard’s owner in today’s gospel (Mt. 20: 1-16).
He is the one working harder than anyone else. He is continually going out to look for more workers at all different times during the day. He also seems very disappointed when he finds someone who is not working, someone who is idle. A Christian must be doing good just as God does. He seems very puzzled when he finds someone who is not working.
Part of the message of the gospel is that one is always needed in the kingdom no matter how late in life, even at the last hour; it is never too late to enter the vineyard or to become more active. And everyone receives the same reward: a denarius, which means eternal life. Everyone gets the same no matter how long they have been there.
However, I think there is something more to this gospel and the reason it is included only in Matthew who was good at counting and knew the true value of things. For instance, the landowner could have paid first the workers who started early and sent them home totally satisfied. It would have been very simple, but he deliberately paid the last ones first and provoked this reaction. The workers are very upset, “You made them equal to us!” How could you have done such a thing? But we are better and we worked longer, in the heat of the day. The owner responds, “Are you envious because I am generous?” The literal meaning gives us a better insight. It says, is your eye evil because I am generous. Is there something in you that distorts the way I see my neighbor, especially when he/she is doing something good? Why do you think it is an injustice when someone has more than you or is more talented than you?
I sense the main point of the gospel to help the workers, and us, to see what was in their hearts. Envy is sadness at the sight of someone else’s goods and the desire to get them, even unjustly. You can’t have this capital sin and be in the kingdom of heaven; it is impossible. You can’t be happy if you react like this.
There is a good example in the book of Exodus when Miriam, the sister of Moses, complains about her brother saying: is he the only one who says, thus says the Lord, and I am sitting here only playing the tambourine? She envies his position and his friendship with God and is punished by leprosy, which is a sign of what sin does to us. It starts small, and then consumes us in the end. It was a great lesson for Miriam, who saw her sin and asked for forgiveness.
This is one of the greatest gifts God can give us: the ability to see my envy or my anger or my whatever, with an invitation to change, to be transformed by God, who is a God of people, you and me. It is something truly beautiful that God wants to give us. He is not putting my face in the mud but helping us to see the truth.
God is always active, like the owner of the vineyard who is always running to his vineyard making sure that everyone is fruitful, no matter the time of the day. How did you react when you saw that everyone got the same pay? We are all sinners and we all fall short, but often we don’t see that. Let us take advantage of this parable to think more seriously about the evil that might be in our eye and how much God wants to remove it.