|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on September 19, 2011 at 11:40 AM|
Every day was pretty much the same for the workers where I grew up. They went to the strip mall on the side of town at about 6:00 and took their place in line. A few business folk ran into Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee on their way to work, but otherwise the parking lot was empty. Just a line of men waiting as the sun is just coming up, hoping that they will find work today.
And the first truck pulls up and the driver gets out and checks out the line. “You four,” he says, “come with me. $7.25 an hour is the going rate these days, right? So, $90 for 12 hours, then. Hop in.” And the 4 men climb in the truck and head off to a day of landscaping work in the hot sun.
And the rest of the men in line wait, hoping other trucks will come. They wait all the way until 9:00 am when the same truck comes by again. And the driver chooses 4 more men to join the first group and promises to pay them whatever is fair. And the same truck comes back at noon and at 3:00 to gather more men. By 5:00 at night, the parking lot is full as commuters have gotten home and are heading to the grocery store or picking up a pizza for dinner. But in the corner, there are still 4 men,waiting and hoping. And in an act that seems like mercy, the driver invites them to the last hour of work for the day.
When it comes time for pay day, the workers who came late don’t expect much. But they’ll take anything to bring home to their families. And they get their $90 paycheck and they can barely believe their eyes. They have enough to buy food tonight and finish paying the rent! And the rest of the workers see his joy and start thinking how good this boss is. Until they see their paychecks and they look just the same. And the ones who worked and sweated and whose backs are aching look at their paycheck and it almost seems like dirt to them. No extra pay for their hard workin the hot sun? And these lazy folks who moved a few plants around at 5:00 get the same pay? Then what was the point of working so hard? This isn’t fair!
And the boss asks those first workers, “What’s your problem? Are you jealous because I am good?” Your pay is still exactly what I promised you. You have everything you need for the day. I haven’t cheated you or taken away what is yours. But I never promised that I would be fair. I wanted all my workers to have enough so I gave some more than they deserve. What does that matter to you? You have all you need. Go home to your families and enjoy what you have.
And the boss is so annoyingly right that their pride is hurt a little. Yes, he was fair to them, but don’t they deserve to be valued more? Don’t they deserve to have the boss give them a gold star in front of everyone? This is not the way the world works!
It’s true, it’s not the way the world works, Jesus says. But it’s what the kingdom of heaven is like. Just like the boss, the kingdom isn’t fair, but it is good. It’s a place where everyone gets what they need- from the one picked first for their strength to the one picked last because he had a broken foot and barely knew how to work a shovel. It’s a place where everyone gets chosen just because they need the work. It’s a place where we don’t ge twhat we deserve- but where we always get what we need.
It’s a beautiful kingdom to look at, especially when you are struggling to have enough or mourning for your brothers and sisters who go without. But it’s so far from what the world looks like. And I think Jesus tells us this parable is so that we can begin to see with kingdom eyes.
So that we can begin to ask- what would it look like if everyone who showed up hoping for a job actually got work to do? And what if everyone got paid enough to provide for their families? What if the janitor and the secretary and the CEO all got paid based on what they needed to live on, not what type of work they did?
It may not make a lot of sense as our country’s economic policy, but what if this is how we lived as followers of Jesus? What if this is how we handed out our love and our welcome and even our possessions? What if we gave to those who need it rather than those who deserve it? Imagine what it would look like.
It would probably look like a little like the Israelites in the wilderness who went out to gather manna in the morning. Every day they went out to gather it side by side, but at the end of the morning, those that had families of 10 ended up with more than those with families of 3. No one had too much and no one had too little. They all had enough. It wasn’t what they deserved- but it was what they needed. It was God’s kingdom at work.
And in the early church, the Scriptures tell us that everyone shared all that they had so that everyone had enough. The rich sold their possessions so no one would go without and they never bothered to ask how much work their brothers and sisters did before they gave them what they needed. The followers of Jesus worked to make the goodness of creation enough for everyone. They wanted to right what the world had messed up. It was God’s kingdom at work.
And still, Jesus sets a table of bread and wine every week where everyone has enough- the lifelong follower and the person who barely even believes anymore. The one who deeply wants to receive Jesus and the one that’s only going through the motions. The person who has labored among those who are poor for 40 years and the one who still doesn’t like giving a few cans of food away to those who need it. The table is set for all of us. No matter how long or how well we have served God, Jesus invites us all to the table where everyone gets an equal share of love and forgiveness. At this table, everyone gets exactly what they need and no one gets more than anyone else. It’s not fair, but it is good. Just like the God who loves us.
This is what God’s kingdom is about. And it’s what God’s kingdom will always be about- whether we’re ticked off because we’ve been working hard without recognition or whether we’re amazingly thankful for getting far beyond what we deserve. Grace and love and blessings are given how God wants to give them. And we are promised that although it won’t ever be fair, it will always be good. So we given two choices- we can work in God’s kingdom where everyone gets paid the same or we can sit outside and pout about how it’s not fair. Either way, it’s not going to change God’s goodness- it’s only going to leave us out of enjoying it.
A Jewish story tells of a hardworking farmer. The Lord appeared to him and granted him three wishes, but with one condition- that whatever the Lord did for the farmer would be given double to his neighbor. The farmer was thrilled and wished for 100 cattle. Immediately he received 100 cattle, and he was thrilled until he saw that his neighbor had 200. So he wished for 100 acres of land, and he was overjoyed until he saw that his neighbor had 200 acres. Finally, he stated his third wish: that God would strike him blind in one eye.
You see, you can either enjoy what you have or you can begrudge what your neighbor has. But somehow, Jesus knows, you can’t do both. We can choose to see the goodness of the kingdom or we can be ticked off that those that don’t deserve it get a piece of it. We can rejoice that we are chosen to do work in the kingdom of God or we can curse God’s mercy and try to earn recognition for ourselves. We can be proud of our hard work and think about how superior we are or we can rejoice that we have a paycheck that gives us everything we need.
No matter our choice, God’s kingdom remains the same. It is one where all who want to work are chosen, where no one goes without what they need, and where our loving God gives us all we are promised and far more than we deserve. It’s not fair- it’s better. Because it is good.
So come, enjoy the gift you have been given. Enjoy God’s goodness. And enjoy bringing others to know this God who is good beyond our understanding.