It is a strange fact that, even though the desire to perform some service or task usually contributes to you doing it well, the desire to rule over people usually makes you ill suited for the task. We may think that nobility is a strange notion – the idea that you are born to rule as royalty or something – but it does solve the problem of finding someone to rule. In the scripture passage, we see that the only tree willing to set aside its natural gifts to rule instead over the people was the buckthorn. It would have been great to have a nicer tree, but none of the others were willing. It could make us realize the limitations of our current system of government… Is the motivation to lead or to rule an indicator of anything more than a lust for power? Only, perhaps, if the the motivation is driven by necessity – no one else will do it.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus recalls the daily labour of our Christian life: the vineyard. The vineyard symbolizes the work of justice in the world and in our hearts. That inner work of justice is the cultivation of virtues. Our particular level of perfection in this life does not gain us a better reward in the life to come, but if we know the kingdom that awaits us – how can we task ourselves with any other kind of work? We shouldn’t expect to receive more, because God rewards us with nothing less than Himself. That same reward is offered to all who strive to bring their lives and the world around them into conformity with the will of God and His justice.
INCOMPLETE WORK ON MATTHEW:
So we too, if we neglect the justice committed to us, will not only have no reward, but we will also be charged for the justice that has been abolished. For God’s vineyard is not outside us but has been planted inside our very selves. So anyone who commits sin destroys the justice of God within himself; but anyone who does good works cultivates it in himself. The well-cultivated justice of God within you brings forth grapes, that is, Christ. For those who do just deeds form Christ in themselves, as is written: “My little children, with whom I am again in travail, until Christ be formed in you.”1
GREGORY THE GREAT:
But we can ask why those who were called, even though late, to the kingdom are said to murmur. No one who murmurs receives the kingdom of heaven, and no one who receives it can murmur. Our ancestors up to the Lord’s coming, however righteous their lives, were not let into the kingdom until he came down, who by his death opened up the paradise that had been closed to the human race. Their murmuring means that they lived in such a way as to obtain the kingdom and yet were kept for a long time from obtaining it.… We who come at the eleventh hour do not murmur after our labor, and we receive a denarius. After our Mediator’s coming into the world, we are led to the kingdom as soon as we leave the body. We obtain with no delay what our ancestors obtained only after waiting a long time.2