When you see yourself as separate, you compare yourself to others, you struggle with the superiority complex, the inferiority complex, the equality complex (I must try to be as good as her). But if you know that you ARE him, You ARE her, and she IS you, there is absolute peace.
– Thich Nhat Hanh
Constant comparison with those who are smarter, more beautiful, or more successful than ourselves also tends to breed envy, frustration, and unhappiness.
– Dalai Lama
You can find the readings for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday in ordinary time cycle A here.
AAAAHHH!!!… I want to scream every time I hear this parable. It cuts me to the quick, but it is needed now more than ever.
I was relaxing in the aptly named family room where my three daughters were engaged in various stages of homework and I decided to ask them what they thought of the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. They are used to me so they humor me. I recited the beats of the parable and said to them; “so what do you think?” They all agreed that the complainer had nothing to grumble about since he was given what he agreed to accept for a day’s work. Clearly they were not getting the point, so I asked it another way.
I said to the oldest; “suppose you and I agreed on a dollar amount for working with me in the yard all day. Suppose the work was taking too long for the two of us so I ask one of your sisters to help us at noon for the same dollar amount you accepted for all day work. Suppose that toward evening we realize that more help is needed and I ask your other sister to help us for the same dollar amount you accepted for all day work. When the day was complete and I paid you for your good work how would you feel?”
What do you think she said? Based on her earlier comment one would think that there was nothing to grumble about, but she was honest and said she would feel cheated. One of her sisters immediately chimed in with a rousing cheer of; “I would feel great because I was paid the same for less work.” Siblings are so supportive. I am going to miss them when they move out of the house.
My daughters finally understood the parable. When I asked my oldest if she was envious of my generosity toward her sisters in our story, she was honest again and said yes. If we all could be this honest about the envy we feel at the generosity of God we might have a fighting chance at heaven on earth.
Over the years, I have come to the conclusion that I can look deep into any person’s eyes and say with absolute conviction, “I could have been you.” The best construction I can put on this conviction is that the lives we have been given come with an intrinsic responsibility, which I understand to be: We are to care for each other and lovingly share our stories with each other. Thus a prejudice of any kind is an absurdity.
– Bill Wenzel
The scripture scholar will tell you that to fully grasp the Gospel message for the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matt 20:1-16) we must first read the parable of the rich young man (Matt 19:16-30). Conveniently for us the story of the rich young man comes just before the laborers in the vineyard so there is not much difficulty in finding it.
When the rich young man walks away sad the disciples are left wondering who can be saved, if not the rich young man? Jesus then explains that (Matt 19:30) “many who are first will be last and many who are last will be first.” This leads directly into our Sunday Gospel where Jesus says at the end of the parable (Matt 20:16) “thus, the last will be first and the first will be last.” This pattern of repeating information in reverse order to make a point is called a chiastic structure. The two parables are split by chapters in the Gospel but inexorably connected by the importance of the emphasis of the words.
If we take a closer look at the emphasis of Jesus – “thus, the last will be first and the first will be last” – the most common interpretation is God’s love transcends wealth and class. The poor in Jesus’ day were considered second class citizens and the wealthy and powerful deserved salvation because of their status. The poor and the lame were considered to be less deserving of God’s love than the wealthy and powerful. Jesus reminds us that this is not true with God.
Our lesson from the parable is to see with the eyes of God. The increasing expectations of the workers led to their unhappiness when they received their pay. By virtue of the fact that they worked longer they concluded that they deserved more pay than the other workers, in essence, the other workers deserved less. How often do we make these types of comparisons in our life? How many times have we concluded that we deserved more than others because of who we are or what we have done, or that others deserved less?
Let me put this to you again in a more Catholic context. How many times have we compared ourselves to the Catholic who only comes to Mass on Christmas and Easter? We feel that by virtue of our Mass attendance or the number of rosaries we say that we are somehow more deserving of God’s love. A more accurate way to state this is; by only coming to Mass on Christmas and Easter those Catholics deserve God’s love less.
I am going to speak directly to the traditionalist Catholics when I say; how many times have we concluded that we are more deserving of God’s love because we have stayed true to the traditional teachings of the Church? Again, because some Catholics have broken from tradition they deserve God’s love less.
Jesus has clearly said that our rising expectations based upon our comparisons to others will lead to our discontent. It is our envy of God’s generosity that drives resentment.
Let me reset this in a positive way. If the all-day workers did not compare their pay to the others there would be no grumbling. Better still, if the all-day workers celebrated the generosity of the vineyard owner, and were pleased that all workers received a full day’s wages, what happiness would fill their lives?
Thus, if the traditionalist Catholic celebrated the generosity of God’s love of the Catholic who only attends Mass on Christmas and Easter what happiness would fill their lives?
It is human nature to compare ourselves to others, but we can choose happiness instead. If there is one thing to take away from this homily it must be the understanding that you can choose to compare yourself to others and live your life in grumbling discontent, or choose to celebrate people in your life and be happy.
Jesus is asking us to see with the eyes of God, not the eyes of mankind. In God’s eyes nobody is more deserving of God’s love than anybody else. If we want real happiness in our lives we should not have expectations that our wealth or class make us more deserving of God’s love.
It is not easy and I am sure there are many traditionalist Catholics who, like the rich young man, are unwilling to part with the belief that they are more deserving than other Catholics. I pray that you choose happiness instead.