Matthew 20:1-16 has different applications. Pope St. Gregory the Great gives us two possible applications, the first regards salvation history itself and second, more psychological, the ages of a human being. Thus, on the one hand, one can think of the owner of the vineyard as God who comes out at different stages in history to call in the elects of Israel and finally, on the eleventh hour, he also calls in the Gentiles. On the other hand, one can also think of it as God calling people at different ages, beginning from boyhood until old age, to the Christian life.1 It is also interesting how the Pope applies the parable to the good thief and Peter on the one hand, and Stephen the Martyr and Paul, on the other. The whole point of the homily is given in two points:
(F)irstly, no one should even presume anything about oneself because even if already called to the faith, one does not know if one is worthy of the eternal kingdom. The second is this: no one should dare despise the other, whom perhaps one sees languishing in vices, because one does not know the wealth of divine mercy.
While the Sunday lectionary only presents us the text of the parable until Matthew 16a, Pope Gregory comments until the end of verse 16. He presents this last as a warning to those who think that they may have entered the kingdom of heaven but who cannot be sure of their worthiness to be part of it (cf. the other parable in Matthew 25).
The Hours of the Divine Call
The worker, therefore, who was called in the morning, on the third, sixth and ninth hours, point to the ancient Hebrew people who from the beginnning of the world did — among its elect — try to honor God with correct faith, like those who do not cease to work hard in cultivating the vineyard. On the eleventh hour, the pagans are called. They were asked: “Why have you been idle here the whole day (!Mt.20,6)”. They, in fact, did not for a long time. care to work for their lives like the ones who stood idle the whole day. But think, dear brothers, what they responded to the question. They said: “Because no one has taken us in” (!Mt. 20:7). No patriarch, no prophet, was sent to them. And what does this mean “No one has employed us”, if not this: “No one has proclaimed to us the ways of life”? What therefore would be our excuse, when we have omitted to do what is good, we who from the womb of our mothers came to the faith; we who from the cradle have heard the word of life; we who together with carnal milk, have tasted the liquor of heavenly preaching at the breasts of the Holy Church?
We can also distinguish the different hours relative to every man, according to the diverse moments of his age. So, morning is the boyhood of our intellect. The third hour may indicate adulescence because when the heat of of that age rises, it is like the heat of the sun rising up. The sixth hour is youth, because as the sun seems to stop in the middle of heaven its full vigor is also reached. The ninth hour is a figure of maturity, in which the sun begins to decline because at this time, the heat youth begins to diminish. The eleventh hour is the age that is called “decrepit”, that is, old age. Since then one is called to the holy life during boyhood, another in adulescence, another in youth, another in maturity and another in old age… so see here that the workers are called to the vineyard in different hours. Observe, therefore, your behavior dearest brothers, and see that you really are workers of God. Each one should examine his work and consider whether one is really working in the vineyard of the Lord. Those who work for Him are they who do not think of personal gain but for those of the Lord; it is on account of their charitable zeal that they dedicate themselves to pious work, so as to conquer souls, and hurry to bring others with them to life. He who lives for oneself and who pastures in the pleasures of the flesh are justly accused of being idle, because they do not aspire for the fruits of godly work.
He who neglects until late in life to live for God is like one who has stayed idle until the eleventh hour. For this reason, rightly is it said to those who have remaned idle until the eleventh hour: “Why have you been idle for the whole day?” It is just like saying: “Even if you have not wished to live for God in boyhood and in youth, repent at least in old age; and even if it is late, when there isn’t much work to do anymore, you may still come to the way of life. ” Even the Lord of the household calls to these, and the they are recompensed many times more than those who came first because going out first from the body, they go to the kingdom before those who have seemed to be called from boyhood. Did not the good thief reach the eleventh hour? If he did not reach that age because of age, he did reach it through suffering, he who recognized God while he was on the cross and breathed while he made his profession of faith. The owner of the household began thus to distribute wages beginning from those who are last, because he brought the thief to the rest of paradise before Peter. How many patriarchs lived before the Law, how many under the Law and yet those who were called at the coming of the Lord reached without any indulgence the kingdom of heaven.
But what follows these words is terrible: “May are called but few are chosen” (!Mt. 20:16) because many do come to the faith, few reach the kingdom of heaven. See how many we are who have come to the feast today and fill the walls of this church; and yet who knows how few are those who are numbered among the flock of God’s elect. See how everyone cries out “Christ!”, but their lives cry out for something else. Many follow God by word; they run from it in the practical conduct of life…
Dearest brothers, you see many of these in Church, but you should not imitate them nor should we despair of their salvation. We in fact, see what one is today, but we don’t know what could happen to him tomorrow. Many times, even he who seems to lag behind us, can precede us with the agility of good works and we lag behind him who today we think we are preceding. Surely, while Stephen was dying for the faith, Paul was guarding the robes of those who were stoning him. He, therefore, stoned Stephen with the hands of all, because he made it easy for them to cast the stone. And yet with his hard work preceded in the holy Church the same one who by his persecution had rendered a martyr. There are therefore two things about which we should think. Since “many are called but few are chosen”, firstly, no one should even presume anything about oneself because even if already called to the faith, one does not know if one is worthy of the eternal kingdom. The second is this: no one should dare despise the other, whom perhaps one sees languishing in vices, because one does not know the wealth of divine mercy.
Gregory the Great, Homily XIX, 1-3.5-6
Originally posted 2008-09-01 00:54:27. Republished by Blog Post Promoter
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