Father Cantalamessa on the Kingdom of Heaven

A Commentary by Pontifical Household Preacher

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ROME, SEPT. 16, 2005 (Zenit.org).- In his commentary on this Sunday’s readings, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the Pontifical Household, addresses the topic of the justice and goodness of God in determining who will enter the kingdom of heaven.

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Matthew (20:1-16)

The parable of the laborers sent to work in the vineyard at different hours, all of whom receive the same pay of a denarius, has always created a difficulty for readers of the Gospel. Is the proprietor’s way of acting acceptable? Does it not violate the principle of the just compensation? Labor unions would all rebel if someone acted like that householder.

The difficulty stems from a mistake. The problem of the compensation is considered in the abstract, or rather in reference to the eternal. So regarded, the topic would in fact contradict the principle according to which God «will render to every man according to his works» (Romans 2:6).

Jesus is referring here to a concrete situation. The only denarius that is given to all is the kingdom of God, which Jesus has brought on earth; it is the possibility to participate in the messianic salvation. The parable begins: «The kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out early in the morning.» The Kingdom of heaven, therefore, is the main theme and background of the parable.

The problem is, once again, that of the posture of Jews and pagans, or of the just and sinners, in face of the salvation proclaimed by Jesus. Although it was only when hearing Jesus’ preaching that the pagans (sinners, publicans, prostitutes, etc.) decided for God, while before they were far off («idle»). Because of this will they will not occupy a 2nd class place in the kingdom. They will also sit at the same table as all others and enjoy the fullness of the messianic goods.

More than that, given that pagans show themselves more disposed to accept the Gospel than the so-called just (Pharisees and scribes), we see here what Jesus says at the conclusion of the parable: «The last will be first, and the first last.»

Once the kingdom is known, that is, once the faith is embraced, then there certainly is room for differences. The fate is not identical of the one who serves God all his life, making his talents yield the most, and the one who gives God the leftovers of his life, with a confession to make amends, in a certain sense, at the last moment.

Having clarified this key point, it is legitimate to bring to light the other teachings of the parable. One is that God calls everyone at all hours. There is a universal call to the Lord’s vineyard! It is, in brief, the problem of the call more than that of the recompense.

This is the way in which our parable is used in John Paul II’s exhortation «Christifideles Laici» (on the vocation and mission of the laity in the Church and the world): «The lay faithful belong to that people of God represented by the laborers of the vineyard … ‘You go into my vineyard too'» (Nos. 1-2).

The parable also evokes the problem of unemployment: «No one has hired us!» Many unemployed could make their own this disconsolate response of the workers of the last hour. We all know what it means for someone to be unemployed who has a family, or for a youth who wants to get married and cannot because he has no job and no minimum guarantee to be able to worthily support his family.

If work is lacking, the reason (not the only one, not the main one, but certainly a relevant one) could be that some have too much, accumulating different jobs — all compensated in different ways.

Another teaching can be drawn from the parable. The householder knew that the laborers of the last hour had the same needs as the others; they also had their children to feed, as did those of the first hour. Giving all the same pay, the householder shows that he doesn’t consider merit as much as need. He shows that he is not only just, but also «good,» generous and human.

[Italian original published in Famiglia Cristiana. Translation by ZENIT]

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