Justice Reflections From Fr. Claude

Twenty Fifth Sunday of the Year

There is a saying attributed to Attila the Hun (5th century): ‘For me to be happy, it’s not just important that I succeed; it’s also important that everyone else fails.’  For many, success is measured by one’s job, one’s earnings, wealth, even the people who may subscribe to Facebook. Today, as ever, we are being called by the gospel to a different mindset that involves generosity, service, and responding to generosity offered. This is true with the October Voice to Parliament referendum as often with trade unions. A word often appearing is ‘unfair’ where a marginalised people for over 230 years might finally get a voice and be listened to is deemed unfair.

The trade union is a wonderful movement where it is allowed to exist. Where people with money, land and privilege exploited those without, the trade union movement, after long struggles and violence, enabled people without power except their labour to stand together to call for fairness and justice from the rich and powerful. Despite continuing exploitation and injustice, it has worked to check and reverse these practices. However, the ‘unfair’ stance has also been present where workers have been set up against one another with demands for different pay for different work. This parable clearly affirms that a minimum wage must be living wage. The landowner in the gospel could have given alms but expressed generosity by making just work and wages available to all where they could live with dignity by their labour. This clearly makes just labour practices a pro-life issue. Just wages allow people to eat, clothe themselves, and have shelter and health care—all essential resources for life. Some commentators subvert or undermine the landowner’s motives. There is nothing to say that he is a cheapskate by employing a minimum number of workers. It is not about his need but the needs of the workers. Unlike the real world, the story emphasises the needs of workers. It does not revolve around the need of bosses.

Some workers would also be aghast at Jesus’ parable today. But, Jesus’ way is different. His experience of God’s love and goodness leads to different and open-hearted mindset. Some people might not appreciate the generosity of people and view them as bizarre, extravagant, peculiar, or wasteful.  Being for and extravagant things for others can look foolish and naively idealistic. Such love does not make sense when seen as a transaction. Love is not a transaction! Speaking of God, Isaiah reminds us today: ‘As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.” There is no injustice, just generosity.


The world is unjust with the abuse of power, exploitation and discrimination of women, people of colour, casual workers, and First Nations people everywhere who live with the consequences of colonialism, ongoing racism, and unimaginable incarceration, without equal opportunities in work, healthcare, education, food security, and housing. For many families there is no exit from poverty.  In God’s reign there is room for all, and God seeks justice for everyone. Like the landowner who kept looking for workers throughout the day, God is looking for us, individually and organisations, to do the work of God’s reign with love, mercy in support of the marginalised, and speak up for those whose voices are ignored or not heard.


God’s Reign is not based on the principles of usefulness, greed, and self-promotion rule, but on God’s care and love based on who we are, not what we do. Here, the least are taken care of first that expresses the ‘preferential option for the poor’. Like those workers who are paid last, we are called to see God’s inclusive compassion and justice at work in our daily lives. We are called to look for God’s forgotten ones and treat them, not by standards of human fairness but with compassion and unearned generosity. Pope Francis recognised this in 2020 when he said that ‘This may be the time to consider a universal basic wage which would acknowledge and dignify the noble, essential tasks you carry out. It would ensure and concretely achieve the ideal, at once so human and so Christian, of no worker without rights’. (1)  This means that survival should not be linked to the work we do. It means questioning the culture of meritocracy where the powerful justify the appropriation of the common goods and their position of power. Though there is dignity in work, human dignity is not conferred by work. Dignity, worth, comes with our humanity. We see that God does not act according to our criteria of justice and equality or measure according to merit but according to the value of people and their needs. The late comers in the story had the same right to live, eat, health care for themselves and their families as the others.


We are constantly asked to shift our usual way of thinking. The story in the gospel opens new vistas, a new perspective. It opens the door to a different way of thinking. It sets a different standard: need. To have the mind of Christ requires letting go of many convictions and prejudices we take for granted. This is different to our consumer culture, economic system, materialism, individualism, etc.  As the scriptures present a God who is gracious, merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfastness, love, goodness, and compassion, we are also, according to the psalm, entrusted with a world of abundance to nurture and share. Paul shares how he tried to live in an alternative world – the world where God reigns; a world where Christ’s compassion and love are evident and tangible in the life and actions of believers where the needs of the other takes precedence over one’s personal satisfaction.


We are asked to open our eyes to what constitutes justice. For the Christian, it about the image of God – a God who is gracious. Love in the gospels goes beyond human rights. In this prophetic parable, Jesus proclaims the ‘economics’ of an openhanded and generous God – not the economics of consumer capitalism that would keep large numbers of people unemployed and controls the labour force with a big stick. Jesus’ experience of God as ‘an unfathomable mystery of goodness’ smashes all our pre-calculations. His message is so revolutionary that, after twenty centuries, many Christians, including the churches, dare not take it seriously.



We need to look and listen beyond the pattern of ‘this world’s’ limitations of heart and imagination and live in the image of God’s reign. It means embodying that presence made possible by listening to Jesus and looking at the world from the heart perspective that draws us into the compassion of God. It means not viewing the world through the lens of self-interest and being held captive to stingy notions of merit. God will not be limited by our narrow views of justice. God’s mercy is not bounded by the limitations of our compassion. By embodying God’s justice and generosity by opening our hearts and embracing the outcast, welcoming the stranger, opening our hearts to asylum seekers and refugees, being in solidarity with all who suffer from the meanness and exploitation of times. This is parable is not for a world that operates on deals, bargains, and narrow rules of fairness. This parable moves according to generosity, and everybody gets enough to live. So, wherever we find ourselves, in our homes, workplaces, schools, universities and places of worship, we are called to challenge assumptions that leave people and ‘our common home’ in great need, and see everyone as beloved sisters and brothers.

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