Published on September 6th, 2019 | by Stephen Barrington0
The parable of the labourers, Matthew 20:1-16. August 14, 2019
Ahakoa kei tino makariri kei waho, nga mihi mahana e hoa ma o Ihu Karaiti, rangimarie ki a koutou katoa! Warm greetings friends, despite it being freezing outside. May peace be with you all.
Our gospel today is the parable of the labourers in the vineyard, from Matthew 20:1-16. This text comes at the end of a teaching session by Jesus on divorce, the dangers of riches, how to treat children and the benefits of renouncing privilege. It is the icing on the cake for this section and the lead in story for Jesus talking about his upcoming passion, his walking away from power and its traps.
In our story day labourers are hired, most likely the best ones first and the less good further into the day. Of course the top workers who worked all day are annoyed when the latecomers; who were probably the unreliable, unable and untrustworthy; got paid the full day rate for probably doing very little actual work. This may sound a little bit communist or even an ad for a ‘universal income’ as some are proposing now as a mechanism to lift many out of poverty. But, once again Jesus is trying to make a bigger point or statement than that.
This story is an assault from God on the way our system of money and reward for work operates. The whole notion of being rewarded for your ‘individual skill’ and only paying for ‘what you use’ is a divisive and therefore ‘satanic’ system that benefits those who have position, power and privilege only.
Last weekend in Wellington we had the honour and incredible opportunity to spend the weekend in a ‘non-western’ cultural context. We heard how when land is owned communally nobody misses out. We were challenged and encouraged by stories and a worldview that made sense. We heard that ‘who I am’ is the whole line of people behind me, not my name or achievements in front of me. We learnt that ‘although it is small, it is a great treasure’ and a few others proverbs and songs. It was a great context to discuss our own views and assumptions about life and to see many connections and similarities to the ‘way of Jesus’. We all left with lots to continue to wrestle with and seek to make real in our lives.
Whatever we think the first shall be last means, it is very clear from our text today that our generous employer (ie God) cares deeply about the poor. Not in a disconnected patronising way but in a way of solidarity where he suffers for standing with them. He is ridiculed and maligned for his generosity and care. When we live as individuals we cannot build community, we cannot make connections of solidarity with others and experience their struggle. Yet God does this in today’s text – and right throughout the scriptures. When we choose to walk with someone, alongside them we will feel their pain and want to stand with them because of that.
The last and the least were not forgotten by God; if that sounds like you today be encouraged that God notices. Be encouraged that God’s friends will walk with you and lift you up so you can continue, and thrive. If we have the privilege of choice may we use that choice to invest in those ‘who are last’ in our society, as God does today. May we look for ways to divest and share our wealth so that others can be included in our community, lifted up and given opportunity to participate and contribute.
The surrounding context of our story today also reinforces these ideas, that the small people are the most valuable. How do we use our money and how do we relate to those coming last in the rat race? We can easily discern if we are one of God’s friends by checking out who we stand with, who we are in solidarity with and what we do with our cash. Big questions again today from Jesus – all the best as you wrestle with what this means for you.
May the Kingdom come on earth so that poverty is eradicated and justice flows down like a river.
Buckshot – Wellington chapter, New Zealand