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Wednesday, 06 September 2017 21:21

Human dignity and equality

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Sr Veronica Lawson2 rsm150Reflection on the Gospel- 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A, 24 September 2017 (Matthew 20:1-16a)

In today’s gospel readings, we are invited to live in ways that promote quality of life for every one of Earth’s inhabitants, writes Mercy Sister Veronica Lawson rsm.

From 1973 to 1975, I was a student in East Jerusalem. Early each morning, I crossed the road from my home at the Chaldean Patriarchate to the grounds of the Ecole Biblique. I would see the Palestinian day labourers lined up beside their vehicles, waiting for employment. In the wake of the Yom Kippur War, they were living through hard times. In the morning, they were chatty and cheerful. Those who found work no doubt remained cheerful: they had the means to support their families and could find some meaning in their lives. Those still waiting for work at midday or later were dejected and shamed, not least by the prospect of returning home without their daily bread. Those who were hired found honour in the society and the means to sustain themselves and their families. Those who missed out on work suffered hunger, indignity and a sense of powerlessness. Confronted by this spectacle day after day, I began to understand the parable of the labourers in the vineyard. 

In Matthew’s parable, those who have worked all day grumble because the underemployed are made “equal” to them. They are in fact equal as persons. Jesus makes it clear that people’s worth is not to be measured in terms of their capacity for economic production. Pope Leo XIII, writing about the condition of the working class back in 1891, echoes this aspect of the parable. It is worth revisiting Pope Leo’s encyclical and recent commentaries on its relevance for the shaping of social policy in our times.

Those who cannot find work and those who cannot work because of sickness or disability or visa restrictions know something of the experience of the Palestinian workers. Their needs are no less urgent than the needs of those who have productive and well paid employment. Even minimal social security benefits might address their basic material needs but are less than effective in addressing the underlying issues of human dignity.

Parables yield meaning differently in different contexts. Some of us may want to consider the corrosive effects of “envy”. Faced with the growing disparity between rich and poor in our world, some may want to raise questions about the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the landowner. Others, conscious of the plight of asylum seekers and refugees, may come with questions about “generosity” offered from a base of power over against equal access to the world’s resources. In the face of climate change, many of those who used to be “first” in economic terms now find themselves with huge debts. They may not be quite as desperate as the Palestinian day labourers. They nonetheless find themselves waiting in line as never before. There’s an invitation in today’s story for us all to live in ways that promote quality of life for every one of Earth’s inhabitants.

For permission to reprint weekly gospel reflections by Mercy Sister Veronica Lawson, please contact:
Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia and Papua New Guinea (ISMAPNG) - South B Community Office by email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., phone + 61 3 53317774 or fax + 61 3 53318937