Year A 25th Sunday: Matthew 20:1-16

20:01  'Now the kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner

            going out at daybreak to hire workers for his vineyard.

20:02  He made an agreement with the workers for one denarius a day

            and sent them to his vineyard.

20:03  Going out at about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market place

20:04  and said to them, "You go to my vineyard too and I will give you a fair wage."

20:05  So they went. At about the sixth hour

            and again at about the ninth hour, he went out and did the same.

20:06  Then at about the eleventh hour he went out

            and found more men standing around, and he said to them,

            "Why have you been standing here idle all day?"

20:07  "Because no one has hired us," they answered.

            He said to them, "You go into my vineyard too."

20:08  In the evening, the owner of the vineyard said to his bailiff, "Call the workers

            and pay them their wages, starting with the last arrivals and ending with the first."

20:09  So those who were hired at about the eleventh hour came forward

            and received one denarius each.

20:10  When the first came, they expected to get more,

            but they too received one denarius each.

20:11  They took it, but grumbled at the landowner saying,

20:12  "The men who came last have done only one hour,

            and you have treated them the same as us,

            though we have done a heavy day's work in all the heat."

20:13  He answered one of them and said,

            "My friend, I am not being unjust to you; did we not agree on one denarius?

20:14  Take your earnings and go. I choose to pay the lastcomer as much as I pay you.

20:15  Have I no right to do what I like with my own?

            Why should you be envious because I am generous?"

20:16  Thus the last will be first, and the first, last.'


Matthew places this parable after the story of the rich young man who wanted to ‘have’ eternal life, but couldn’t follow Jesus because he was ‘having’ many possessions(19:16-22). Matthew is playing there with the word ‘to have’. Just before that event Jesus taught his disciples to become like children. The rich young man was a negative illustration of Jesus’ lessons about becoming as a child. Then Peter said, ‘Look we have left everything and we followed you. So what will that bring us?’ Jesus’ reply, ‘Eternal life!’ (19:27-29). And Jesus summarises, ‘Many who are first will be last and the last will be first’ (19:30).

The last sentence is illustrated by the parable of the labourers in the vineyard. The last ones are the last people, the ‘children’, the ‘little’ ones, those who know that it is not good in their lives and are longing for change, a new life. Jesus joined this people by being baptised in the beginning of his mission. Since that moment he was always to be found among them. And not amongst the ‘first ones’.


There is a certain tragedy in this parable. Working in the vineyard is an image for doing God’s commandments; living in God’s presence. But after a full day of labouring in the vineyard..., preparing wine, the drink for weddings and parties, the first one does not wish for the last one to have the same recompense as is given to him: that he as well may enjoy God’s gift. What did he do all day long ‘in the vineyard’? Didn’t he experience, learn anything?

Picture Meditation

The artist divides his painting into three parts. In the upper part: the calling of the workers; in the centre: how they are labouring in the vineyard; in the lower part: the payment at the end of the day.

The story starts on the right side: the moon tells us that a new day is about to begin. The man with the pink head hires workers for his vineyard. When the sun is coming up - ‘the third hour’ i.e. nine o’clock - he hires others: upper right. At twelve (‘the sixth hour’) he hires more people: upper centre. At three in the afternoon, ‘the ninth hour’ he hires people again: upper left corner. Finally   at sunset - ‘the eleventh hour’, five o’clock - he does it again: centre left; there we see the man in blue and orange walking to the vineyard.

In the centre the workers are labouring in the vineyard. It is a challenge for me to find where the differently hired workers are working. At any rate I can recognize the last one...

In the lower part the payment is pictured. The man with the pink head gives a denary to the man in blue and orange who was the last one to be hired. Beautiful image for ‘grace’. The man in red, who belonged to the first group is protesting. His finger indicates that he knows exactly how much the other one deserves. Behind him: a pious vicar, image for the ‘pious’ people who do know very well what others have to do, forgetting that the Lord is a Lord of grace and mercy. For the others as well for themselves.

Where am I in this picture? Called first or later? Enjoying that I am preparing a festive drink? Or only working for the recompense at the end?

Finally I have a talk with one or more persons in the picture; at last with the Lord.

Meditation by Fr Dries van den Akker S.J