The 20th Wednesday in Ordinary Time
Jesus told his disciples this parable to get us thinking about our own role as laborers in the vineyard of this world. He himself is the landowner, and if we agree to do the work he calls us to, he will give us the wage of eternal life – nothing more, and nothing less. He’s hoping we won’t try to compare ourselves with other laborers in the vineyard or figure out why he seems to be more merciful to some than to others.
It reminds me of the 17th-century English classic, The Pilgrim’s Progress, where there’s a character whose name illustrates the kind of qualities the landowner hopes to find in his hired help. The book is an allegory, and so the author, John Bunyan, gives each of his characters a name which describes the kind of person the character is.
In the second part of the book, he describes Christiana and her children making their way from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. They have a guide for their journey, and Bunyan calls him Mr Great-heart. One of the giants they meet up with says to Great-heart, “You practice the craft of a Kidnapper, you gather up women and children, and carry them into a strange country, to the weakening of my master’s kingdom”. But Great-heart replied, “I am a servant of the God of heaven; my business is to persuade sinners to repentance; I am commanded to do my endeavor to turn men, women, and children from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God”.
And, we might add, from the sin of envy to the virtue of generosity, from a small heart to a great heart, a heart like unto the landowner’s. That was Great-heart’s work in the vineyard: to persuade the workers to renounce their envy and come to share in the generosity of the landowner to their fellow workers. For all who persevere in their work in the vineyard will receive the same wage: eternal life in the Celestial City.
Jesus calls us today to focus our attention on our own work in the vineyard and not on what wage he will give anyone else. And so let us pray at this Eucharist, with Bishop Lancelot Andrewes, “Lord, who even at the eleventh hour of the day, graciously sent men into your vineyard and fixed a wage, notwithstanding they had stood all the day idle: do for us a like favor and, though it be late, as it were about the eleventh hour, accept us graciously when we return to you, and save us”.