Do Not Call God Just

Matthew 20:1-16
The Holy Forty Martyrs of Sebastia

Today, on the feast of the Forty Martyrs of Sebastia, we hear the parable of the householder. In it, Jesus describes the anger of some labourers who were outraged that they were paid the same rate for working the whole day as others were paid for working only an hour. With this parable, Jesus highlights our universal human tendency to compare ourselves to others and make sure that we are getting what is due to us.

We tend to assume that God will also see things as we see them. However, while some such standard of justice may be necessary in human society, this is not how God sees things. “Do not call God just,” Saint Isaac the Syrian tells us, “for His justice is not manifest in the things concerning you.” God’s ways of operating are different to our ways of operating – for Him, everything is pure gift, and His mercy knows no limits. God knows what each of us needs far better than we can know ourselves. Saint Isaac continues,

How can you call God just when you come across the Scriptural passage on the wage given to the workers? ‘Friend, I do thee no wrong: I choose to give unto this last even as unto thee. Or is thine eye evil because I am good?’ How can a man call God just when he comes across the passage on the prodigal son who wasted his wealth with riotous living, how for the compunction alone which he showed the father ran and fell upon his neck and gave him authority over his wealth? None other but His very Son said these things concerning Him, lest we doubt it, and thus bore witness concerning Him. Where, then, is God’s justice?—for while we are sinners Christ died for us! But if here He is merciful, we may believe that He will not change.

*****

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew 20:1-16:
The Lord said this parable, “The kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing; and he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the householder, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you, and go; I choose to give to this last as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’ So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few are chosen.”