About that ‘Justice’… (Reflection on Mt 20.1-16)

There is no doubt that justice is a major theme of the Bible. The Law contains many provisions for economic justice, the Prophets railed against unjust judges who upheld the greed of the rich against the interest of the poor, and the Writings contain may reflections on the justice of God in unjust circumstances. Yet, today’s Gospel reading reveals a different side to justice. It is the familiar parable of a man who hires day labourers in the morning, again at noon, and again in the afternoon, paying each of them the same amount. On the one hand, it is perfectly just, as the man points out, as everyone is paid what they agreed to be paid. On the other hand, most of us will feel a little put out by the story, as those who were hired in the afternoon were paid the same about as those who had been working all day.

What the story reminds us is that God’s justice is not a child’s sense of justice, whereby everyone must be treated exactly the same. Rather, God’s justice is governed by grace, by benevolent love. People do not get what they deserve, in God’s justice, but rather, are given what God chooses to give them, and if this parable is any indication, God errs on the side of giving more.

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