24 September 2017 – Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Gospel: Matthew 20:1-16
The parable of the workers in the vineyard; God welcomes all into his kingdom
Jesus said to his disciples: “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the labourers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?” They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.’
When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the labourers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.” When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage.
Now when the first came they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
The disciples listening to this story probably found it hard to see past the unfairness of it all. It may have taken them years to understand it as a parable which shows that God does not think in the same way as we do. At the heart of God’s love for us is his desire that we will be with him in heaven for all eternity, and whether we are latecomers to that realization does not matter.
This parable highlights the part expectations can play in our lives. When our expectations are not met, all sorts of emotions can take over – disappointment, anger, and bitterness, as happened in the parable.
If our expectations are unrealistic we may put pressure on ourselves or others which leads to relationship breakdown, low self-esteem, physical and mental stress. Tailoring our expectations of ourselves to reality needs to be balanced with fulfilling our potential. It requires good self-understanding (the work of a lifetime) and an openness to developing and using our gifts, whatever they may be.
Our expectations of others, especially children, need to be realistic and to take the form of gentle encouragement and support rather than being demands they struggle to fulfil. Great damage can be done to those we love by imposing expectations on them which push them in certain directions or suppress their natural gifts.
The wisest and most saintly people impose no expectations on the people around them, which means they are never disappointed. Instead they inspire and encourage others to fulfil their potential, and respond with spontaneous and genuine delight when people do good things.
The expectations we have of ourselves and others need constant examination. They can be powerful drivers of our moods and our relationships.