The Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time September 24, 2017
Isaiah 55, 6-9 + Psalm 145 + Philippians 1, 20-24, 27 + Matthew 20, 1-16
St Joseph Church in Norman, Ok
There is a line in this dialogue that ought to leave us stunned in wonder, and it is not the wonder of admiration. Stunned by shame would be more like it. As a people who easily get impatient in the line of a check-out stand or waiting for someone to make right turn with their foot on the break, the culture and society we have created easily leads us to think that out time is worth more than others, that people “in the way” need to get out of our way, and with that, pride looms up and makes angry, impatient, and ugly people out of the best of us.
There is a line in this dialogue that we ought to take home today and ponder its meaning for a long time. Studied with the mind and heart of faith, it speaks to and challenges much of the behavior and thinking that has deeply disturbed the fabric of our society in our life-time. It is a challenge to the individualism that has pushed us apart. It is a challenge to a racism that at its roots suggests that one race or country of birth is superior to another. It calls into question attitudes of superiority that begin to reveal and unmask someone far from God.
The complaint of those who were paid last reveals a kind of superiority and exceptionalism deeply rooted in envy making them angry, impatient, and ugly people no one would want to be around. “You have made them equal to us!” they grumble. “You have made them equal to us.” Listen to those words and think about what an affront this is to God, the Creator, the Father, the Provider, the Protector, the Owner of this Vineyard.
In this kind of self-centered thinking, the envy they have is really directed toward the vineyard’s owner. Their self-centered, puffed up, opinion of themselves makes them unable to be good and be generous. This fault in their character and their lives is revealed by their grumbling and bitterness. Instead of gratitude for being paid exactly what they were promised, they are angry because by the generosity of the owner others received the same wage. Not more, mind you, but just the same, what was agreed upon.
Their arrogant attack on the latecomers is more than economic. It is the revelation of envy. In the Greek use of that word, there comes that expression of looking at someone with “an evil eye”, a vision that is distorted and darkens one’s perception. Their complaint and envious grumbling provokes a strong rebuke. “Go home” says the owner. “Get away from me” is the message – way away.
“You have made them equal to us” is the center of this parable. Seven words for a serious look and examination of our deepest attitudes and expectations. These words are the best test to discover the power and the sickness of envy in our lives. We can see easily what this envious attitude has done to communities of people everywhere in the dysfunction and collapse of civility, respect, and justice. When we step before the owner of the vineyard we certainly would not like him to say, “Go home.”