Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Laborers in the Vineyard

‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the market-place; and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?” They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.” When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.” When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’  Matthew 20:1-16

Farm labor is hot, back breaking work. The harvest demands multiple hands working efficiently. Very few of us realize how physically demanding this kind of work is, nor do we have experience with the field bosses. Some are kind but many are harsh and pay by the load or poundage harvested. We are not talking about gentle bosses, but cruel and intense with few protections for the workers. Life in the fields is a hard life. It makes folks either cruel to each other sometimes, and sometimes a camaraderie develops that  is a world unknown to the field bosses. Although the product down the line -fancy wines etc- might fetch a big price, the people who bend and sweat to harvest, see the least of that money.

In to an harsh environment of filed bosses, competition and abuse, Jesus comes to turn the tables. He tells us that God's justice treats all fairly and equally, and even those who came late will have enough to take home to feed their families. It seems almost unjust, to not get credit for hours of labor. But we also know that many don't always have the same opportunities, the same skills, the same capacity. And yet we are invited to be humble, like the last, to understand that we will be provided with enough, and even plenty. God's justice is for all at all times.

Today I ask God to help me put aside any jealousy or competitiveness and to take delight in the gifts given. May we all rejoice in knowing that there is enough for us all, and no matter when we show up, God will provide a place for us and enough for the day.

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