Daily Reflection
of Creighton University's Online Ministries
August 18th, 2010

Dennis Hamm, S.J.

Theology Department
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Wednesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
[421] Ezekiel 34:1-11
Psalm 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6
Matthew 20:1-16

So the owner of the vineyard pays the workers who bore the burden and heat of the day the same salary he paid the guys who were hired at five o’clock in the evening. No one can hear that parable about the workers in the vineyard without feeling that this one-salary-fits-all business is profoundly unfair. Obviously, the story has been designed to evoke that response. Why? In my opinion, the point is to shock us into the awareness that God’s relationship with us transcends all human measurements of fairness.

Jesus makes a similar point in his analogy about the relationship of a slave to his master (Luke 17:7-10). He asks, “Is [the master] grateful to the slave because he did what was commanded” So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say ‘We are slaves to whom nothing is owed’” (my translation). Another shocker! Talk about a “low self-image.” How can Jesus advocate such an attitude? Again, the point is that the divine-human relationship transcends the master-servant analogy. Our relationship to the Father goes beyond any human idea of “earning” the quality of God’s relationship with us. God’s mercy and fidelity toward us is never really “payment for” or “gratitude for” our behavior. God first loves us, and our response always lacks any measurable proportion to that love.

Pondering the literal language of the second last verse of the vineyard parable is helpful. The current NAB translation—the one we hear in church today—reads, “Are you envious because I am generous?” (v.15b). That version catches the meaning accurately, but some color is lost in translation. The sixteenth century renditions (KJV and Rheims) are closer to the Greek: “Is thine eye evil because I am good.” In speaking about an “evil eye” Jesus uses an idea from first-century Middle-eastern culture that ascribed evil power to eyes that looked covetously or enviously at a person or thing. On one level, that is superstition; but on a very real level, an envious eye can lead to real harm—stealing, seduction, even murder. One point of Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard is that, when it comes to our relationship with the ultimate Landowner, comparison with what we perceive to be other’s relationship with God will only lead to folly and self-delusion. No matter what we think of God’s ways with us, God is always just and loving. Our pitiful comparisons turn out to be vain imaginings that misconstrue what is really going on. The envious eye really is an evil eye.

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