September 20, 2020
Apparently, since biblical times, there have been valid reasons why workers are discouraged from talking about how much they make.
In this section of the Gospel, three times Matthew has Jesus say, “The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.” One can only conclude that in Matthew’s view, Jesus seeks to reorder the relationship between those who have and those who struggle.
Let’s focus, of course, on today’s story.
Let’s start with the day laborers . . . a vulnerable group by definition. People who don’t have or can’t get a steady job. And even inside that group, some will be chosen while others left behind.
Our story leads us to believe that while some worked hard all day long, the others had it easy just lazing around waiting. But what if there’s different take?
What if we acknowledged that each and every laborer put in a full day whether it was 12 hours labor + 0 hours idle for some, or 11 hours idle and 1 hour labor for others, and all those in between? Each worker showed up hoping, needing to earn a day’s wage.
Now, the landowner. Presumably, the landowner hired all the workers needed first thing in the morning, right? But clearly the landowner cares about more than just his property. The landowner actually cares about the workers—we know this because he goes out to them several times throughout the day—he makes sure each one takes home a day’s wage.
This action reflects more than just generosity. It reflects a new social order; a Christian social order that recognizes and favors the common good over the transactional order that favors entitlement and quid pro quo. It reflects a preferential option for the last, for the poorest. In the words of Pope Francis, this common good “becomes logically and inevitably, a summons to solidarity and a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters.”
Or more bluntly, God’s idea of justice is everybody being able to eat at the end of the day, no matter one’s capacity, no matter if you’re chose first or last.
Not their fault that they were idle all day. No one else hired them.
Not their fault to be overlooked because their skin is dark.
Not their fault that COVID rendered them unemployed and unable to pay the rent or power bill . . . in March, and again in April, and again in May, and again in August, and again in September.
Not their fault that generational systemic racism puts them too far behind the curve of advancement that no amount of drive and hard work can overcome.
Not their fault . . .
Yet still, they show up and are willing to put in a full day’s labor because no matter how hot the sun or how long the hours, our how unjust the system, nothing, absolutely nothing is worse than standing idle . . . waiting . . . wondering, will I be able to feed my family today?
Let’s look at this whole story from another angle. In addition to a different social order, as I just described, I suggest this story also attempts to express a basic truth about our relationship with God, and how God calls each one of us.
God is like the landowner who seeks workers on the estate. We are like the day laborers. In the social order, as mentioned, day laborers are a vulnerable group, without permanent standing with a single employer, but rather dependent every day on a call.
If this reflects our relationship with God, it means we have no claim on God. God owes us nothing. Yet each day God calls us to work in the world. The agreement is simple and basic: if we work for God day by day, God sustains us day by day. . . . Provides, for me at least, a new appreciation for a phrase we all know by heart, “Give us this day our daily bread.” No more. No less.
Keeping with the thread of call, another angle would be to imagine the workday as the span of your entire life. Again, God is the landowner and we are the day laborers. We all arrive in the market square at 6:00 am – early in our lives—eager and ready to respond to God’s call. For some, that call comes through loud and clear, and off they go. The rest of us wait and are rendered idle, and we begin to wonder, “Did I miss the call? Should I have listened harder? Will God come back?”
Indeed, God comes back at mid-morning, mid-day, mid-afternoon, and even near the very end of the workday. “I have a call for you!” Indeed, God comes back at key moments throughout our lives, even in the later stages. “I have an idea for you. Are you ready? Are you willing?”
Shameless commercial alert! So, with all of this in mind, I encourage you to participate in our adult faith formation series that starts Oct 1 that is named, Called to Change: Finding Life’s Purpose. No matter what time of day it is in your life, in this series we seek to help you hear and respond to God’s call. Details on the Sunday Page.
Let me conclude by simply saying: Pay. Attention. God is calling each one of us to align the things we do in the world with the things God is doing in the world.