Part 1: Announcements and etc.
Thank you for visiting! The idea here is to have a little online meditation and reflection, since we aren’t meeting in person today.
If you’d like make an offering this week, scroll down and look to your right for the Paypal button, and consider adding 2-3% on to help cover the online fees. Thank you!
Wednesday there is a Lenten Soup Supper on Spiritual Disciplines at 6:30pm at Amy & Heather’s. Please RSVP to Amy if you’d like to come! pastoramy (at) sixeightucc.org
Here’s my idea for this – first, click on the link to the song in Youtube & it should come up in a new window, and then read the blog section below it. But first, here’s the Scripture: Matthew 20:1-16. Bonus points for reading it, since I’ll summarize below.
Canticle of the Turning
This parable from Jesus comes after a rich young leader has approached Jesus, asking him how he can be perfect. Jesus answers: sell everything you have, and give it to the poor, then follow me. The young man goes away sad because he is very rich. Jesus tells his disciples: in the kingdom of God, some of the first will be last, and the last will be first. Then he tells the story for today:
Imagine a landowner, a farmer with a big vineyard. He needs to get a lot of work done that day, so early in the morning – 6am-ish – he goes to the town square and rounds up some day laborers, contracting them to work for the day for the standard daily wage, one denarius. A denarius at the time would be enough money to buy food for a family for a day, but not much extra. No retirement savings are being padded here. The workers agree, and go with him to the vineyard to get started on their work.
Around 9, the farmer goes back to the town square and hires some more workers, then at 12, then at 3, and finally he goes at 5. There are still some workers hanging around, unemployed for the day, and he says, “Why are you still here?” They say, “Because no-one hired us.” So he hires them and sends them to his fields for about an hour of work.
When the day is over and it’s time to be paid, the landowner lines the workers up in order of being hired – last hired, first paid, and he gives the workers hired at 5 a denarius each. Workers farther back in the line, who came earlier, see this and think “Ooh, maybe we’ll get something extra if he’s so generous with those guys.” But when they get to the front, the landowner gives them the same wage as everybody else – one denarius each.
So then they’re disappointed and grumble about it. The landowner says to one of them, “Why are you upset with me? I am paying you what I said I’d pay you. Are you mad because I’m generous with these other ones? It’s my money – I’ll do what I want!”
So, Jesus says, in God’s way of doing things, the last sometimes come first and the first come last.
Wayfaring Stranger sung by Johnny Cash
So we still have day laborers today in the US. Check out Eastern Avenue in Fells Point early on a weekday morning, for example. The prospect of being a day laborer carries with it the uncertainty of knowing whether you’ll be hired, whether you’ll earn anything, each and every day. The workers in Jesus’ parable, standing in the market until 5 in the afternoon, just hoping against hope, have to work if they want to eat that day. And in our day and age, workers can be taken advantage of by contractors who know that they won’t necessarily face consequences if they stiff the men they hire. Here’s an organization, the Centerville Labor Resource Center, that serves as an honest broker for day laborers and contractors.
In recent months, we’ve also seen shifts for low-wage workers – labor organizing for fast food workers, Wal Mart’s recent announcement that its minimum wage will go up to $9 per hour next year and $10 per hour the year after that, and at the same time, it’s still very possible to work 40 hours a week and be below the poverty line.
And, last, white collar workers have their own problems with being overworked, being able and therefore expected to work all the time. Thanks to Cy for posting these articles:
Exhaustion is not a status symbol (Washington Post
Busy is a sickness (Huffington Post)
What is fair?
Be Still My Soul
In Jesus’ story, the landowner does something generous that he doesn’t have to do – he pays the workers who have only done an hour of work the same amount as the ones who worked all day for him. The question of what’s fair seems to rest in what character you identify with in the story. If you feel like one of the early-hired workers, then it doesn’t seem fair – your hourly wage is way less than the one hired last – 1/12th or so at the most extreme. On the other end of the scale, the person hired last probably wasn’t expecting to get paid for the whole day, so the denarius feels like a very welcome gift, not something earned – an unexpected escape from going to bed with a hungry family. In the kingdom of God, Jesus seems to say, everybody has enough to eat, whether they earn it or not.
I of course, just like with the story of the prodigal son, identify right away with the people who feel like they’ve worked really hard, done the right thing, and are getting cheated in the deal. I think moving out of this space means recognizing that, 1. no, actually, I’m fooling myself about some of my own behavior, a perfectly human and frequently problematic way of doing things, and 2. God’s grace is so extravagant, so tremendous, that it actually can never be earned. That’s the whole point of grace. God’s love, the wonders of this world, the beauty of love and life, all come without asking, and without price.
Living into it
Ain’t No Grave
This leads me to suggest two spiritual practices – 1. honest self-examination (coincidentally, we’ll be talking about The Examen at Wednesday’s soup supper and 2. gratitude. We move into God’s kingdom by recognizing again and again the bounty of God’s grace and our own limitations in the face of it. And, as we move into that kingdom, we also move toward a world where everyone, no matter their ability to earn it, has the things they need, their daily bread, to survive.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
So, put it in the comments! Does this seem fair? How good is this news if you’re currently first in line? What about if you’re currently last? Where does the unearned, generous nature of God’s love and grace come in?