Wednesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
“Equal pay for equal work!” This popular political mantra seems to be a basic demand of social justice. And yet, it seems that this is not the way of our Father in heaven, if the parable that Jesus tells about the Kingdom in today’s Gospel is to be believed. Are we to say that God is not just? That is the accusation that the ones who began to work at dawn make against the landowner in the parable when they receive the same pay as the ones who work just an hour. But the landowner does not see it that way: “My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?” The landowner does, indeed, keep his end of the bargain with the people that he hired at the start of the day; they receive what they have been promised. In this, the landowner is just, as he says to those hired at nine in the morning: “I will give you what is just.”
Nonetheless, reasoning as we do with our fallen sensibilities, the attitude of this lord (for the landowner is a lord) may be grating. Some commentators observe that we need not be overly concerned with the seeming injustice of this lord, since what Jesus intends is to explain to the nation of Israel that, though she has labored to remain faithful to the Lord from the beginning, the gentiles who have only lately entered into Jesus’ fold will be rewarded with the same salvation. Though this may be true, we cannot let this argument remove the sting of the lord’s apparent injustice, for what applies here to Israel applies also to the Church, and through the Church, to each Christian. So we are back where we started.
Maybe the key invitation that would help us to see the foolishness of our own claims of “injustice” here comes when the lord calls the grumbling workers “my friend.” These workers do not work in the way that Ignatius suggests that they should, that is to say, out of love (cf. SpEx 150). It is a privilege to work for a friend out of love, even if one rightly seeks compensation for one’s labor in order to support one’s family. Which brings us to the question of compensation: we are accustomed to link the justice of our compensation to the quantity and quality of work rendered. But God’s justice refuses to be reduced to such a transaction. If the lord loves the workers, he will see the proper use of a daily wage as ordered to the loving support of a family, to feeding the children of that family. Each of the workers has this obligation, whether or when he found work, and it is out of love for the worker and for the spouse and children that the worker “deserves” this wage, not on the basis of any personal “merit.” For this reason, in another age, there were people who held that those who had a family to support ought to be paid more (even for equivalent work) in order to care for their children; the fact that many Catholic schools cap tuition at a certain level per family regardless of the number of children enrolled derives from this deeper understanding of “social” justice, founded in love that is more proper to God’s “society” than to our own. Let us ask Jesus to help us to love as he loves, and so be just as he is just, so that the love and justice that we work for may truly be his.
August 19th, 2015