Photo by Sunday Visitor
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
"Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last." (Mt. 20:1-16)
In this parable, the landowner hires several people to work in his vineyard. One can imagine all the work that is needed to bring beauty to a vineyard. On five different occasions during the day, the landowner hired workers for the vineyard. When the day was over, he gave them all the same wages that the hired workers agreed upon. Some were upset, but they had agreed. What's important here is to recognize that the landowner in this parable was a just employer.
However, after giving this parable a second read, two factors played a significant role in my reflection—first, number five. In Mattew's gospel, this gospel writer uses messages hidden in numerical values. When looking at several Biblical passages in the Old and New Testament, number 5 was substantial. Here are a few references to the number 5:
God's law consists of five books known as the Torah, in which Matthew creates five sermons in his gospel;
There are five divisions in the book of Psalms divided by a doxology;
The building of the "tabernacle in the wilderness" centered around five components: five curtains, five pillars, five bars;
There were five ingredients in the holy oil which sanctified the tabernacle;
David had five stones when battling the giant;
In Matthew's gospel alone, we have a story about five wise virgins and five foolish virgins;
We have a narrative about five loaves of bread and five thousand fed; and
Today, the parable talked about the landowner going out five times looking for employees to work in his vineyard.
In Biblical numerology, the number five stands for God's grace. His grace is enough.
For this reason, on my third read of this parable, I discovered a second factor, God's grace. I switched the metaphor of wages, replaced it with God's grace. I identified the landowner as God. After making the switch, I took a biblical journey through the Bible, musing over five of the most historical moments when God bestowed his grace onto the world. In God's vineyard, I see Abraham. He is the first historical figure in the Bible and the father of faith for all three monotheistic religions: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. That's grace. Next, Moses and Joshua's call narratives showed God's grace as they led the Israelites to the promised land. Moving forward, we have King David, receiving God's grace when uniting the twelve tribes of Israel. Then there is Mary, full of grace, giving birth to the Light of the World. Finally, we have Peter, whom Jesus told that upon this Rock, I am going to build my Church, and hell's gates will not prevail. All five of these stages points us in the direction of the Kingdom of God. It did not matter when they received God's grace; all enter God's Kingdom with God's grace. The first shall be last, the last shall be first.
Church, its God's grace! From the beginning of the world, God has shown his grace to us for salvation through Jesus Christ. We must understand that no one can ever measure God's grace. Unlike in the parable, when the employees sought higher wages, there is no hierarchy in God's Grace. No one receives more grace than the other; grace is grace. From Abraham to Peter, from Simon to the thief on the cross, its God's grace.
It doesn't stop there. Remember Johnny Boy, the guy who was caught up in trouble all the time, or Channel, the woman who stayed in the streets while you were in Church? When they accept Jesus Christ as their Savior, they will get the same grace you received when baptized as babies or adults. Even if your children decide to come back to the faith after straying, God's grace is there, no more and no less. Paul said God's grace is enough. In this parable, the landowner was just; the first shall be last, the last shall be first.
Author: Evangelist Michael P. Howard, M.A.