In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus tells a parable about the kingdom of heaven. It is a parable about an owner of a vineyard hiring workers at different times of the day, and winding up paying them all the same, the “usual daily wage.” In the parable, the workers who worked in the vineyard all day take exception to the fact that the ones who only worked an hour or two get the same wage.
For those of us listening to this parable, we can find ourselves sympathizing with those ones who were offended. But we need to remember that this is a parable about the kingdom of heaven, not a discourse about just labor practices.
If we think about the kingdom of heaven, about our salvation, does it matter whether we are first or last or somewhere in-between? Are there different levels of heaven, or different levels of being forever with God? I think that very often we’d like to think there is. But once again, Jesus reveals to us that God’s way of thinking is not the human way of thinking. God wants us all to enter the kingdom of heaven.
When we are in touch with the generosity and grace and love of God in our lives, and are willing to do God’s will and follow Jesus, I think we’ll find that we are just happy to get in, and we will willingly let go of any concern about rank and privilege in heaven. Think of your favorite saint. Do you not hope that he or she will welcome you with joy, no matter when you came? He or she will not be jealous of you being in the presence of God as he or she is. What more privilege can we receive than to spend eternity with the God who loves us more than we can imagine?
While we are here on earth, following Jesus involves working for justice and peace. Laborers deserve a just wage for the labor they provide. But when it comes to the kingdom, the “prize” of being with God cannot be added to or segmented into different levels. By the grace and love of God in Jesus Christ, may we all enter the kingdom.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P., is the local superior of the Passionist Community in Birmingham, Alabama.