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In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus tells the story of the laborers who each receive the same pay regardless of when they started work. The laborers in the story and we who read about them have the same question: How can that possibly be fair?
Here is the quick answer: Because each laborer did very little, and the pay for each was the mansion of their dreams. But that will require some explanation.
We are accustomed to hearing this Gospel and thinking about wages the way we experience them on earth. We work for eight hours; we get paid for eight hours. But the parable is meant to be applied to the spiritual life, so we need to think about it totally differently.
As the first reading from Isaiah points out: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways.”
For one, the work we do for our earthly employer contributes to our employer’s livelihood. In our spiritual life, the work we do for God contributes to us, not him.
“We can have merit in God’s sight only because of God’s free plan to associate man with the work of his grace,” says the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2025). “Merit is to be ascribed in the first place to the grace of God and secondly to man’s collaboration. Man’s merit is due to God.”
For another, the wages we are given for God’s work are far above what we get paid for earthly work.
The heavenly wages are so great that St. Paul has to admit that he longs for death, because it brings heaven: “For to me, life is Christ, and death is gain. … I do not know which I shall choose. I am caught between the two. I long to depart this life and be with Christ, for that is far better. Yet that I remain in the flesh is more necessary for your benefit.”
Paul wants to keep working in Christ in order to spread the faith on earth — but he also wants the wages that follow in heaven.
What are those wages? In the Douay-Rheims version of the Gospel of John (and the King James version also) Jesus says, “In my Father’s house, there are many mansions … I go to prepare a place for you.”
If we are tempted to think of heaven as something strange and ethereal, we need not worry. The “dwelling places” Jesus is preparing for us will be part of a “new heavens and a new earth,” says the Book of Revelation. Heaven will be a renewal of the world we know, not an alien world where we are foreigners.
Says Revelation: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more; neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
That is a fine wage, no matter how much we have worked.
But we will have to do the work to earn the wage. The parable is clear that idlers are not given the wage.
So get to work: Help the poor; participate in the parish; tell people about Jesus; do pro-life work; serve your family and neighbors.
It is never too late to start.