Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time | Year A
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner going out at daybreak to hire workers for his vineyard. He made an agreement with the workers for one denarius a day, and sent them to his vineyard. Going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market place and said to them, “You go to my vineyard too and I will give you a fair wage.” So they went. At about the sixth hour and again at about the ninth hour, he went and did the same. Then at about the eleventh hour he went out and found more men standing round, and he said to them, “Why have you been standing idle all day?” “because no one has hired us” they answered. He said to them, “You go into my vineyard too”. 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.” So those who were hired at about the eleventh hour came forward and received one denarius each. When the first came, they expected to get more, but they too received one denarius each. They took it, but grumbled at the landowner. “The men who came last” they said “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.” He answered one of them and said, “My friend, I am not being unjust to you; did we not agree on one denarius? Take your earnings and go. I choose to pay the last-comer as much as I pay you. Have I no right to do what I like with my own? Why be envious because I am generous?” Thus the last will be first, and the first, last.’
The disciples listening to this story probably found it hard to see past the unfairness of it all. It may have taken them years to understand it as a parable which shows that God does not think in the same way as we do. At the heart of God’s love for us is his desire that we will be with him in heaven for all eternity, and whether we are latecomers to that realization does not matter.
This parable highlights the part expectations can play in our lives. When our expectations are not met, all sorts of emotions can take over - disappointment, anger, and bitterness, as happened in the parable.
If our expectations are unrealistic we may put pressure on ourselves or others which leads to relationship breakdown, low self-esteem, physical and mental stress. Tailoring our expectations of ourselves to reality needs to be balanced with fulfilling our potential. It requires good self-understanding (the work of a lifetime) and an openness to developing and using our gifts, whatever they may be.
Our expectations of others, especially children, need to be realistic and to take the form of gentle encouragement and support rather than being demands they struggle to fulfil. Great damage can be done to those we love by imposing expectations on them which push them in certain directions or suppress their natural gifts.
The wisest and most saintly people impose no expectations on the people around them, which means they are never disappointed. Instead they inspire and encourage others to fulfil their potential, and respond with spontaneous and genuine delight when people do good things.
The expectations we have of ourselves and others need constant examination. They can be powerful drivers of our moods and our relationships.