That communist spirit of the Master of the Lord's Vineyard

Homiletics of the Fathers of The Island of Patmos


This Sunday's Gospel will please the communists, at least to the hard and pure if there are still any. Those of everyone working but working less. If anything, the problems will eventually arise when it is discovered that the pay will be the same for everyone. The parable will give others a stomach ache, the behavior of the owner of the vineyard will appear so senseless and unjust.










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The Gospel this Sunday Communists will like it, at least to the hard and pure if there are still any. Those of everyone working but working less. If anything, the problems will eventually arise when it is discovered that the pay will be the same for everyone. The parable will give others a stomach ache, the behavior of the owner of the vineyard will appear so senseless and unjust. Aside from these cheap jokes of mine, what does Jesus say? Let's read it.

"During that time, Jesus told his disciples this parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out at dawn to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed with them for a denarius a day and sent them into his vineyard. He then left around nine in the morning, he saw others standing in the square, unemployed, and told them: “Go into the vineyard too; I will give you what is right". And they went. He went out again around noon and around three, and he did the same. Went out again around five, he saw others standing there and said to them: “Why do you sit here all day doing nothing?”. They answered: “Because no one hired us”. And he said to them: “You too go into the vineyard”. When it was evening, the owner of the vineyard said to his farmer: “Call the workers and give them their wages, starting from the last to the first". The five in the afternoon ones came, they each received a denarius. When the first ones arrived, they thought they would receive more. But they also each received a denarius. When picking it up, But, they murmured against the master saying: “The latter only worked for an hour and you treated them like us, that we have borne the weight of the day and the heat". But the master, replying to one of them, he said: “Amico, I don't do you wrong. Have you not agreed with me for a denarius?? Take yours and go. But I also want to give to the latter as much as to you: I can't do what I want with my things? Or you're jealous because I'm good? So the last will be first and the first, last”» (Mt 20,1-16).

First of all it must be said that this story is parabolic It's Matteo's own, that is, it is not found in the other Gospels. It seems to have been used by the Evangelist to detach himself for a moment from Mark's plot and make it become an explanation of what he was writing in this section of his work. It should also be noted that the parable has had a varied interpretative history. From those who have read the history of salvation and election from the beginning of biblical events (Adamo, Abraham, Moses) up to Jesus to those who have grasped an allegory of human and Christian life so that even those who will be called to the end of their lives will be able to save themselves, no more and no less than those who responded promptly from a young age. Modern exegesis has seen in it a metaphor for the justification of Jesus' behavior in the face of his detractors who accused him of preferring or colluding with sinners and the excluded who thus became the first in the Kingdom of heaven. However, there is another hermeneutic that can be followed on the basis of what has been mentioned, namely that Matthew wanted to respond with this parable to some dynamics that had already arisen in the primitive group of Jesus' followers and which would have recurred in the Christian communities to which the Gospel will be addressed.

It is no coincidence that the evangelical passage above begins, in the Greek text, with the preposition gar – gar, which means 'in fact'1, as if to say that now we will explain what had previously been reported. What immediately precedes is the phrase that we will find almost identical at the end of this Sunday's passage: “Many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first” (Mt 19,30). This expression of Jesus was in turn linked to a question from Peter: "There, we left everything and followed you; what then will we have??», to which Jesus replied that he would receive along with the power to judge, also a hundredfold and eternal life, but always taking into account the possible interchangeability between the first and the last. Shortly before he had also stated: «This is impossible for men, but with God everything is possible".

We therefore have a background to this Sunday's passage which corresponds to the request for reward on Peter's lips. Now, like in films that recreate a saga, in addition to prequel we also have a sequel. Because later (Mt 20,17-19), immediately after the parable, Jesus will announce his passion for the third time, Death and Resurrection. Faced with such a solemn announcement, much to the reader's dismay, Matteo will report back soon (vv. 20-24) that two brother disciples, sons of Zebedee, they will make this request to Jesus through the mouth of their mother: «Say that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom»; provoking an indignant reaction from the rest of the group. If before then we had with Peter a request for reward, here we have a claim of merit with which the first places were claimed. We note that making these requests, except Andrea, Pietro's brother, they are the very first disciples called by Jesus (Mt 4,18-22)! We understand why Matteo, breaking away from Marco, wanted to add something from one of his sources. Perhaps the measure was full or perhaps he was aware of the pre-emption rights, careerism or profit and privileges will be temptations that will always attack the disciples of Jesus in the Church and forever, which means even today. The parable will then be Jesus' response to these exquisitely human logics and a reminder of the foundation on which everything is possible, which does no wrong because it is good and an invitation to the community to draw from it the consequences of authentic Christian life.

The parabolic tale proceeds with the scanning of some hours of the day starting from the first light of dawn, until the evening around the eleventh hour, seven in the afternoon, when there is only one hour left to get off work. The owner of a vineyard who needed workers went out very early for the first time and made an agreement with some workers for a penny a day. Then he showed up again at nine, the third hour, and he called others, telling them that he would give them what was right. At this point, the reader's perception and expectation come into play and he will begin to fantasize about how much this fair amount will amount to.. It will be, as it is reasonable to imagine, commensurate with the actual hours of work? But the owner of the vineyard is very strange because he will go out again at midday and then at three, surprised to find idle workers he will call them too. In the end, one hour before the end of the working day, at five in the afternoon, when it was now useless - who calls workers to work for just one hour? — will come out again and say: «Because you sit here all day doing nothing?». They replied: «Because no one hired us». And he said to them: «You too go into the vineyard». It is clear that Jesus is not talking about a naive or crazy entrepreneur, but of God who in his great freedom calls anyone at any time without paying attention to work needs or compensation, but driven by the sole desire that people be part of this work. His will is that everyone has the opportunity to stay and work in his allegory vineyard of the people of God, beloved plantation, as attested more than once in the Bible: «I want to sing for my beloved my song of love for his vineyard. My beloved owned a vineyard on a fertile hill" (Is 5,1); «On that day the vineyard will be delicious: sing it! the, the Sir, I am its guardian, I water it every moment; for fear of damaging it, I take care of it night and day" (Is 27, 2-3); «My vineyard, exactly mine, is in front of me" (Cantico 8,12a).

The second part of the parable it will take place almost at sunset as foreseen by the law in Deuteronomy: «You will give the worker his wages on the same day, before the sun goes down" (Dt 24,15). The release of wages according to the order given by the owner took place starting from the last workers called, a reference perhaps to that "the last will be first" (Mt 19,30) of the end of the chapter preceding ours. The expectation that, we had said above, took the reader will now involve the 'first' workers themselves since seeing a money delivered to the last arrivals they will expect to receive more than agreed upon. However, when they finally get their due, they will realize that it will be the same one that was given to the workers called last and this is where the resentment and grumbling will begin.: «The latter only worked for an hour and you treated them like us, that we bore the weight of the day and the heat" (v.12). In the resentful words of the workers called since dawn who could be the disciples of Jesus mentioned above, but also anyone in the Church who feels deserving of some privilege, you feel all the annoyance at what the master has just done. Indeed they say: we are not equal to them, “you lie”You have made them equal to us» — as the Vulgate translates v 12, in Greek You have done the same as us — which is more scathing than 'you treated them like us'; this equality is intolerable.

The response of the owner of the vineyard to the person who appears to be some sort of union representative he will first reiterate that he has been respectful of the contract, since they had been agreed upon a denarius a day and therefore there was no injustice in him, but he also added that what had moved him was a goodness that aimed directly at the good of people without paying attention to calculations of time or money: «Amico, I don't do you wrong. Have you not agreed with me for a denarius?? Take yours and go. But I also want to give to the latter as much as to you: I can't do what I want with my things? Or you're jealous because I'm good?» (v.15). The master's action, behind which, in the eyes of Jesus, lies that of God, appeared unjust to the workers at the first hour, not conforming to the worldly norm, scandalous, even the reader perceived it that way, annoying and unsettling. The evangelist Matthew, in the words of the owner of the vineyard, defines the disgruntled and envious worker as someone who has a bad eye, wicked’, as opposed to those who act because they are good. The expression "you are envious" is the translation of the Greek: Your eye is evil (Or ophthalmos your putting this thine eye is wicked). The organ of vision of these workers, perhaps tired from working hours — pride (pain) in Greek it is fatigue, work — he had lost sight of God's goodness towards everyone. He will affirm: I am good (I took the actions of him, I am good).

The climax of the parable it will be precisely in this revelation: "I am good". And since in Mt 19,17 2, a few verses earlier, it was said that "only one is good", in reference to God, the theological allusion of our parable is evident. Here emerges the essence of this metaphor which glimpses the escape from the iron logic of correspondence between work and pay, performance and remuneration, and allows us to glimpse a world marked by liberality and generosity, by relationships regulated not only by law, but also by being free; not only by the rigor of what is due, but also from the unexpected gratuitousness. In which merit is not the element that must decide the hierarchy of people, but the goodness of God.

I would conclude with two quotes. The first is a very well-known short phrase, taken from a text that had a great influence, Letter to a teacher at the Barbiana School3: “There is nothing as unjust as giving equal shares to unequals”. I choose this sentence that eight boys from Barbiana wrote under the supervision of the prior Don Milani because apparently it seems to go against the teaching of the parable. In my opinion it is the mirror of it because it was precisely the background evangelical, together with the ability to read the society and culture of the time, who guided those kids towards a new concept of merit and judgment within the educational institution. Thanks to the Gospel, for the first time the last were seen and no longer despised or downgraded. If there had not been the Gospel Don Lorenzo would never have gone house to house to remove the boys from the stables to take them to his school.

I chose the other quote for its ecclesial scope and for the sense of joy and faith that pervades it. It is by Pseudo-John Chrysostom:

«Who has worked from the first hour, receive the right salary today; who came after the third, give thanks and celebrate; who arrived after the sixth, don't hesitate: will not suffer any damage; who was late until the ninth, come without hesitation; who has only reached the eleventh, Don't worry about your delay. The Lord is generous, welcomes the last as the first, grant rest to those who have reached the eleventh hour as well as to those who have worked since the first. Show mercy to the last as well as to the first, grant rest to those who have reached the eleventh hour as to those who have worked since the first."4.

from the Hermitage, 24 September 2023




1 «So is the kingdom of heaven – For the kingdom of heaven is like it." (Mt21,1)

2 "And here, a man approached him and told him: «Maestro, what good must I do to have eternal life? ». She answered him: «Why do you question me about what is good? There is only one good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments ".
3 The Barbiana school, Letter to a teacher, Florentine publishing bookshop, 1990

4 Pseudo John Chrysostom, With death he defeated death. Homily on Easter, LEV, 2019



Sant'Angelo Cave in Ripe (Civitella del Tronto)



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