"Are you envious because I am generous?" The landowner in today's Gospel parable surprised everyone. Contrary to standard practice, he paid all of his laborers the same wage, regardless of how many hours they had worked! Of course this was a very pleasant surprise for those who had begun their job late in the day. And, understandably, it was something of a disappointment for those who had toiled since the morning. From their perspective, they should have gotten more than the others. But in fact the landowner was not cheating anyone; he was simply being especially generous with the latecomers.
This story would have had a special meaning for the Jewish audience listening to Jesus. They, the Chosen People, were the laborers who had started at 9:00 am. They belonged to the group with a long history of worshiping the true God. Non-Jewish Gentiles, on the other hand, had appeared late in the game. Jesus was making the point that just because He would offer the same salvation and mercy to everyone, there should be no reason for the Jews to complain. They had received their promised Messiah; so what if, in God's mercy, He allowed others who had not waited so long to be saved as well? Divine generosity is not meant to be a cause for jealousy.
Now, we may feel removed from the concerns of those Jews. But the basic lesson remains relevant: that we ought to appreciate God's generosity, even when it reaches to those whom we may not expect God to forgive. Those who have long been faithful, for example, might think they deserve more benefits than sinners who repent late in life. But instead, we should all rejoice to see God's mercy extended to EVERYONE, no matter when they joined the fold.