Students majoring in business often study successful corporate leaders. They want to learn how those men and women built their companies, their methods for recruiting employees, their budgeting and planning process, their ways of cultivating investors, their style of communicating, and so on.
I doubt that any school would feature the owner of the vineyard mentioned in this Sunday’s Gospel as a business leader to imitate.
In that Gospel (Matthew 20:1-16), Jesus tells a parable about a landowner who goes out at dawn and hires men to work in his vineyard.
He obviously had not calculated the number of men he would need for that day’s work, because he goes out again at 9 am, then noon, then 3 pm and finally at 5 pm to hire more workers.
It would seem foolish to hire people late in the day. Consider the effort required to get those workers to the vineyard, to show them what to do, and then get them started. That vineyard owner was no strategic planner.
And then, at the end of the day, the owner directs that all the workers be paid the same amount. Doing so means that those who were in the vineyard for one hour were paid twelve times as much as those who started work at dawn.
Such behavior would make no sense to an accountant or to a human resources officer. It certainly would not help the company’s bottom line.
There seems to be only one explanation. The landowner’s primary motivation was not to make his vineyard a financial success but rather to help those striving to support themselves and their families.
The landowner went to the marketplace five separate times, not because he kept discovering that he needed more workers, but because he needed to see that those looking for work were hired.
He directed that the workers receive the same daily wage. He wanted all of them to have the means to support themselves and their families.
That, Jesus tells us, is how it is with the kingdom of God. Having a place in this kingdom, having a place in the heart of God, is something that God offers to all people.
Some people are blessed to know God’s love early in their lives. They have a relationship with the Lord from their childhood; others come to know the Lord later, and sometimes not until almost the last hour.
Like the owner of the vineyard, the Lord is always going out looking for people to “hire.” He continually invites those who do not yet know him to have a relationship with him. That invitation comes through the Church, through the preaching of the Gospel, through events in life, through moments of inspiration and grace, through the kindness of a stranger, through an unexpected blessing, or an experience of beauty or intimacy.
When a person responds to that invitation, he or she is assured of being blessed with an everlasting place in the kingdom of heaven.
Like the owner of the vineyard, God is not a good businessman. God does not operate according to the principles of profit and loss, but according to his divine plan. God does not pay only for hours worked, but simply for showing up.
In his dealings with us God shows us undeserved, unearned mercy, for God wants everyone to receive that same daily wage. God wants everyone to have a place in the kingdom of heaven.
© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski