The Gospel for Septuagesima, Matthew 20:1-16, is the parable of the landowner and the laborers in the vineyard. The laborers who came later in the day received the same pay as those who were there first. Some worked only an hour while others bore the burden and heat of the day. Yet all received a denarius.
What are we to make of Jesus' words here, especially in a highly charged social and political climate? There are many obvious parallels that could be drawn with this week's Gospel reading and the status of the state. Unfortunately, Jesus' teaching and illustrations are often made fodder for all kinds of social and political views. People quickly confuse the identity of the man revealed as the Son of God at His baptism by John. He becomes the leader of the day of whatever winds that blow socially and politically. Undoubtedly, this very Gospel reading is being used somewhere to propose a model for a kingdom of this world.
This is a parable for Jesus' disciples. Crucial to this parable and the teaching are the landowner, the laborers and the denarius. Jesus tells His disciples that they are all receiving the same salvation, those who followed Jesus first and those who followed Him later. They are all of the vineyard, the one holy, catholic and apostolic Church with Jesus as the head. He works out their salvation on the cross and mercifully distributes this same salvation in the preaching of the blessed Gospel, the blessed waters of baptism and the blessed Body and Blood of the Eucharist at the altar.
This is not about the work we have accomplished. It is about the Lord's mercy. "Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man that same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?" Is He evil because He freely and equally gives His salvation to us when we would rather focus on and boast of our own works. This is rather about receiving the same denarius, the mercy and salvation of the Lord, at the end of the day. This is a parable of "the kingdom of heaven," a matter of teaching that is beyond time, yet in time in Christ. He is good, so we wait patiently. If there is One who is last who will be first it is Him and all who believe and follow Him.
"Out of the depths I have cried to Thee, O Lord . . .
If Thou, O Lord, wilt mark iniquities: Lord, who shall stand it?
For with Thee there is merciful forgiveness,
and by reason of Thy law, I have waited for Thee, O Lord."
"De profundis clamávi ad te, Dómine . . . sustinui te, Dómine.