The message of today’s Gospel (Matthew 20: 1-16) seems unfair: those who come to work in the vineyard in the late afternoon receive the same pay as those who began at dawn. The reflections here will be from Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Matthew.[1]

The owner of the vineyard is God and His vineyard is the whole world. God calls each person to labor in His vineyard, as St. Thomas Aquinas explains: “Each person ought to work justice and cultivate it and have the care of his neighbor.”[2]

Thomas affirms that “If we labor in the vineyard of the Church, we must refer everything to God, as Paul declares ‘Do everything to the glory of the Lord’ (1 Cor 10:31)… We should first cultivate and prepare the salvation of others and take care of our own needs afterwards: ‘Seek first the kingdom of God, and all things will be added to you’” (Mt 6:33).

Thomas observes that we spend much time in the service of God and little time on our own interests, as St. Paul says, “always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Cor 15:58).

The Gospel tells us: “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Mt 19:17).

What we do in God’s vineyard now will be evident eventually: “The work of each will come to light, for the Day will disclose it” (1 Cor 3:13).

Thomas maintains that to those who labored from the early morning of their lives, God shows His justice and to those who came later in their lives, He shows His mercy. Thomas says, “A greater grace was given to them than was given to the first.”

In fact, to the one who came early and complained, Jesus even shows mercy because, as Thomas notices, “He calls him ‘friend,’ by which He draws him to Himself.” Jesus asks the man, “Are you envious because I am generous?”

Whether coming early or coming in the last hour, our coming to God is always a grace. Thomas explains that even the good movement of the free will, whereby one is prepared for receiving the gift of grace of God, is an act of free-will moved by God. A person is said to prepare for grace but it is principally from God Who moves the free-will. Our free-will is prepared by God that our steps may be guided by God (1a2ae. 112, 2).

What are we going to receive? God’s reward is beyond our expectations: “Eye has not seen, and ear has not heard… what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor 2:9). The reward that we will receive is a certain likeness to Jesus: “We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 Jn 3:2).

Thomas explains that those who were idle were not only those who did evil or wasted most of their lives but also those who did not do good.

Using the comparison of the ages of our lives, Thomas observes that both the young and the elderly may come late in responding to the Lord. The young are idle in hope, wishing to acquire, which is why they are waiting for something. They do not serve God because they are dominated by their passions.

The elderly are idle not in hope but in their memories, watching over what they have acquired. They are just standing around. Thomas doesn’t find age an excuse for not serving the Lord, and thinks that the Lord says to them as well, “Why do you stand here idle all day?”

Thomas grants that some people may not be given the grace of turning to the Lord until they are elderly. Thomas asserts, “Everything has its time.”[3] This may be the Divine will because, as Paul states: “All things work for good for those who love God” (Rom 8:28).

Thomas suggests that God realized that some people would not have responded earlier and so God waits, knowing that “When they consent, they may more effectively rise up, when He says, ‘You go into My vineyard.’ They may be decrepit but “God wills all to be saved’” (1 Tm 2:4).

Thomas points out that some labored before the coming of Jesus and, in that sense, all day. Whereas those who came after the coming of Christ have had grace to help them as well as the Spirit.

Thomas asks whether, on the basis of this parable, we might conclude that, in eternal life, all will share equally in glory. Thomas answers that all will participate in the same object, which is beatitude, seeing God, but all will not participate equally in seeing God with the same clarity. He recalls John’s Gospel: “In My Father’s house, there are many mansions” (Jn 14:2).

Thomas compares this with those who draw more water from a river because they bring a larger container, “So, who has a heart more inflamed by charity, receives more.”

Ultimately, the whole parable is about God’s mercy and goodness. Probably all of us recognize that we are the ones who have received mercy, being given much more by God’s goodness than our small efforts might have deserved. St. Thomas tells us “God rewards us for doing what He helps us do.”

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.


[1] The Latin version of Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Matthew may be found on

[2] The Latin version of Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Matthew may be found on

[3] Omnia tempus habent.