We Americans have a well developed sense of justice. From the time we are children we learn that we must work hard and earn what we get. We are taught that there is little that is free in this world and that people don't deserve what they don't earn for themselves. Then along comes the
parable which Jesus tells about the workers in the vineyard. The owner of the vineyard agrees with the day workers for the usual wage and then at the end of the day compensates those who worked for only a few hours the same way he pays those who labored all day long. Our sense of fairness and justice is offended by this action. What are we to take away from this parable? Basically that at times justice alone is not enough in our dealings with one another. The day laborers at the time of Jesus had no regular employment. They hired themselves out to whoever had need on a given day. If they did not get hired, their families did not eat that day. Knowing this, the vineyard owner gives
them a full day's wage, not because they earned it, but because they desperately needed it. His generosity is based not on justice, but on love. We might be tempted to say that this is fine, but then he should have been more generous as well with those who worked all day, give them more than they earned as well. But then, the money he gave could easily be seen as earned, the more you work the more you get, rather than as a pure gift given because of need. In any case, it is clear that what Christ is teaching is that God's gifts to us are never earned. Our redemption is not something God gave us because we earned it, but because we needed it and could not ever earn
it by ourselves. In imitation of that generous love, we must be generous with others, especially when their need for mercy, kindness and even material goods are greater than what they could ever justly deserve.