Jesus and the Workers: Rev. Judy’s Homily for the 25th Sunday in OT 9/21/14
Once again in the Gospel for this week, Matthew 20: 1-16, Jesus turns the religious and social order upside down and shows us we cannot possibly understand the mind of God nor fathom the depth of God’s love for everyone. The prophet Isaiah addresses this theme as well: “… For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways,’ says your God´(Is 55:8). Just before this Isaiah offered God’s invitation to those who were thirsty and hungry to come and drink and eat “without money and without cost” (Is 55:1). God is again promising the same “faithful love” God promised to David and the children of David. And we read the invitation on two levels: when the prophet says “listen to me and eat what is good and your soul will delight in the richest fare” (Is 55:2) he is saying listen and LEARN what our God is teaching, RECEIVE the teaching that is good and live! This invitation is also the preface to hearing the Gospel today, this is how we find our God. And, it is also a specific invitation to those who have no money to buy. Consistently throughout the Scriptures God provides for those who have the least of this world’s goods and is concerned about the poor and outcast, those who are usually left out.
Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard is not a treatise on labor relations for as much as I support Unions in obtaining just pay and benefits for those who work they may not approve of Jesus’ teachings here. Jesus wants to give everyone the same wages and benefits no matter the hours worked. To understand this parable we need to put ourselves in the shoes of the last to be hired, or even those who will probably not be hired at all.
Here in Fort Myers there is a Labor Pool that assembles on a street corner at 5 AM. It is made up of men and women who want to work and have no regular job. They want to work for the day or, preferably, for as long as possible. Many of our homeless people are part of this Labor Pool. Some ask us for work boots or boots with steel tips because the labor boss wants only those who could actually survive on a construction site. For a while when we served in the local Park we were known as the boot ministry because we would take sizes and deliver boots to these people. The saddest part of this was that the boss took only the youngest and strongest of men and older men, sickly men or women were hardly ever chosen. Yet they would go day after day as once in a while there were “easier” jobs to be given out and they just may get one. There were always many more people waiting to be hired than were actually hired. There is a similar waiting place at another place in Fort Myers and in nearby rural Immokalee where farm workers are chosen for the day. Once again hundreds may stand there and fifty be chosen for the day. Indeed the first are chosen first unless someone younger and stronger is behind them. Some just give up and stop going. We know an older man who went every day hoping to be chosen. Once he was chosen to sweep on a site. That was the first smile we ever saw on his face. It hurts to be overlooked and cast aside.
Unemployment is improving in the USA with 6.2 as the current unemployment rate (Reuters.com Lucia Mutikani 8/1/14). The Obama years are comparable to the Roosevelt years in improvement of the depressed economy inherited from a previous era for the working person(Chart in Wikipedia.com article on Unemployment). This is truly remarkable but not for those who remain unemployed and in need, including those who have given up. In the world there are places with the unemployment rate nearing 50% of the population able to work. Many cannot even survive without UN and other sources of outside help. In a country, like the USA where the upper 1% have 90% of the highest income resources many are overlooked whether in competing for a job and wages or in the esteem of others. This parable is a comment on that. It follows in fact the story of the rich young man who was asked to sell his possessions and give to the poor to have “treasure in heaven” and to follow Jesus. The young man “went away sad for he had great wealth”. So Jesus then teaches that with him, with God, equal wages (rewards/gifts of love and money) are given to all no matter when they come to God. The not chosen and outcast deserve to be first, they have borne the burden of need and want and the stigma of the outcast.
Jesus knew that, he deeply loved the unchosen of this world and told us before and after this parable that “the last shall be first”. Those who are usually left out in this world will be first in the reign of God. The economically poor and those left out because of mental illness, physical difference, race, color, class, caste, national origins, sexual orientation, or any other difference judged by mainstream others to be not good enough will be first with God. The gift of life, eternal life and God’s unfathomable love will be given to all in equal measure. And that should begin now, not sometime later as now is when we are asked to be laborers in the Vineyard. The labor of Christ’s followers is our effort to bring justice, compassion and love to fruition here and now so that those waiting in the labor pool may be duly rewarded for their wait as well as their work. This parable is also about God’s endless and overflowing generosity. If we are stingy and not generous with our time, money, resources, and effort in working for justice and inclusion we are like the workers who were envious of other’s just wages. Justice in God’s dream means that all throughout the land and throughout the world eat and have shelter and respect, dignity and love. We may hold the secret belief that we deserve all good things but “those others” do not. God’s way is generously giving gifts that none of us merit: life, health, love, ample means, and joy- freely given to all. That is God’s way–what is my way? What is your way? We are asked to reflect on that this week, and to be thankful for God’s boundless love. Amen!
Rev. Dr. Judy Lee, RCWP
Co-Pastor Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community, Fort Myers, Florida