Memorial of Saint Pius X, pope
(Judges 9:6-15; Matthew 20:1-16)
The young woman comes to work once a week. She goes to the mail room, and if there is any paper to be shredded, she does that. If not, she may sit there for the rest of the afternoon. Because of her severe retardation, she cannot do anything but the most menial of tasks. But who would deny her the little bit of money she likely receives for reporting to work? Here is the lesson that Jesus means to teach his disciples in today’s gospel.
The passage troubles most readers because one of the principles of worker justice is that each worker is to be paid according to the value of his/her contribution to the end product. This measure guards against cronyism in which workers with close relationships with the manager are paid more. Jesus is saying that truly just compensation must consider other factors than labor input such as the need of the worker. Paying a day laborer the “usual daily wage” would give him just enough money to take care of his family, no more. If the owner paid the workers who come late in the day less, their children would probably not have enough to eat that evening.
The parable coming directly after Jesus’ assurance that those who make sacrifices for his sake will inherit eternal life warns us against greed. We need sufficient resources to take care of our families, but we also need to foster the kind of society where all people can do the same. To be sure, it is a complicated task. But our disavowal of greed comprises a major step in its realization.