Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard: Tough Questions for Ourselves
The parable of the Workers in the Vineyard’s lesson holds both good and difficult news for us, Gunther Simmermacher reflects.
The central objective of our faith is the hope of salvation at the hour of our death; and our chief reason for living with Christ, more than any of our earthly needs, is to prepare us well for the eternal life in the presence of our loving Father.
This faith in our salvation is our great comfort, but it also has an implication which runs counter to our innate human impulses: anybody can be redeemed at any time, even the worst of people. Redemption is available even to the most objectionable sinners, in the final moments of their dissolute lives. What sounds like bad news is the Good News.
The parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) demonstrates the unfairness, as we may perceive it, of this. The labourers who had toiled faithfully throughout the day were paid no more than the latecomers, who had invested much less sweat into their reward.
The lessons of the parable are many. One of them is Jesus’ admonition that it is not our business to calculate fair rewards on behalf of God. Our job is to toil faithfully in his vineyard, regardless of what others do or how they are rewarded for it. Another lesson is that God rewards all sinners who come to him: “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
A troubling thought
It is a disturbing thought that even an epitome of evil like, say, Joseph Stalin might have gained the mercy of salvation if he sincerely repented and sought it in the moments before his death. The idea of it is disconcerting, yet it gives us hope,
for our own salvation and that of those whom we love.
Pope Francis’ teachings echo the parable’s lesson which instructs us to look at our own lives before we judge those of others. Talking of “the final leave-taking, which everyone will face, when the Lord calls us to the other side — our own deaths”, the pope in 2015 urged us to reflect on where we might be at that moment, which could come at any time. According to Pope Francis, we should ask ourselves: “Am I prepared…to entrust myself to God?”
Since death can strike at any time, we must have made things right with God at all times, repenting for our sins of commission and omission. Such a thorough introspection must go much deeper even than that which we undertake in preparation for the sacrament of reconciliation. The questions with which we must confront ourselves go beyond acts that are forbidden by the Catechism, though these obviously require reflection too.
Examine the conscience
In our examination of conscience, which ought to be an ongoing project, some of the questions of conscience we ask ourselves might include:
Have I encouraged or tolerated acts of violence against minorities because of prejudice? Have I created conflict or hurt by my words or actions?
Have I closed my eyes to the poor? Have I been party to the suffering of the poor by exploiting their labour, or by fixing the prices of basic commodities? Have I justified policies which impoverish the poor further because the alternative would mean increased taxes?
Has the inconvenience of loadshedding caused me greater anger than the suffering of the poor or the marginalised? Has the inconsiderate driving of others caused me greater distress than seeing the rags on the beggar at the traffic lights?
Have I joined the rest of the world in being indifferent to (or even party to) the suffering and death of refugees and migrants who are in search of a better life?
Have I encouraged social discord by sharing divisive, wounding or spiteful material on social media? Have I gossiped about others or spread lies about them because of malice, envy or pride?
Have I held others to higher standards than those to which I hold myself? Have I been unjust or uncharitable in my criticism of others?
Have I invoked God’s wrath when it was not my place to do so? Have I told somebody that they will go to hell, not as a warning but as a threat or a wish? Have I distorted or corrupted God’s Word to suit my own opinions? Have I caused division in the Church, among Catholics and among other Christians?
None of us will have a clear account on all of these questions, and the many more one might add. How would we answer God if he asked us today?
Published in the August 2023 issue of The Southern Cross magazine