We have a parable today that has turned my thinking upside down. Parables are supposed to stretch our minds and soften our heart.
When I was younger I never understood today's parable about this owner of this estate who needed help in picking grapes in his vineyard. I could not understand why the owner hired a crew for picking grapes at four different times of the day and then paid them the same daily wage. I always thought this was unfair. If you worked the whole day you should get more wages than if you only picked the crop late in the afternoon. It just made common sense that if you worked more you should make more money.
Finally I have just begun to grasp what Jesus meant when he told this parable. I believe that Jesus meant the owner of the vineyard was an example of what God is like. Not just a God who is a forgiving God, but a God who is loving, just, compassionate and very welcoming.
Dawn came. This owner recognized that the workers who came at dawn to get a job were ones who were able to work, were used to work, and were committed to work. These workers were the ones that always volunteered first and the ones that always fulfilled their commitment to take care of themselves and their family. The owner probably did not need to go into town to search for these workers because the workers already had come to his estate. This reminds me of the many, many of the people of Good Shepherd who always go to their own jobs every day, or work at home without complaining or those who always respond to the needs of others with hesitating and complaining.
Midmorning came The owner went outside to see if there were additional workers who had not come early in the morning. Here were several workers who for some reason had not been able to come at the early morning time to get a job. Perhaps some had to drop their children at the neighbors to ensure that the children could get to school on time. Perhaps the workers had to make arrangements for their elderly parents to be provided for during the day and could not come so early. Perhaps there was even one who had had an illness and just could not walk quickly in the morning to get on the early shift. These workers were unable to come at the correct time to get the pristine jobs.
Noontime came The owner of the estate went to the marketplace to see if any workers could be found. Perhaps this time she saw a worker who was sitting alone and was bent over with depression and despair. There had been a death in the family and the worker was too overcome with grief to think about going to work. I believe that this owner would have sat down with this person and helped lift the great burden of grief. He even could have done this with several other potential workers who were suffering some mental illness that prevented them from believing that they even could work. Pretty soon these few people at the noon hour began walking to the owner's estate and began to work in the vineyard.
Mid-afternoon came The owner came again to collect more workers with the promise that they would be paid the same as the first. This time he had to knock on some of the doors of the houses to see if any workers could be found. She found one worker available for work but the worker did not have any sandals to wear. The owner obtained new sandals. Another was hungry so the owner fed this worker. And still another had physical handicaps and thought that she would never be picked because she was to slow. The owner spoke a few words to the worker who was handicapped and assured her that any grapes that were picked were well worth the money. Slowly, but surely, these three people walked to the vineyard to begin work.
Near the end of the day The owner made a final trip to the market place and found a few stragglers watching closely to see what the owner would do. These workers would not look at the owner. They hid their faces and walked away. Perhaps the owner just sat down and waited for these that were left to come and join in conversation. Pretty soon all came and starting telling their stories. Shame embarrassment and guilt, were talked about freely. All the owner did was accepting the stories with love and forgiveness. These new workers started smiling, held up their heads, and then quickly went to the vineyard.
Evening Came The owner directed that the foreperson give out the pay starting with the workers that came near the end of the day and finish with the workers that began at dawn. Complains were loud and vociferous from the workers that began on the first shift. "Where is my extra money," they cried out loud. The owner (God) gently responded. "I do you no injustice. Are you envious because I am generous?"
Generosity and Abundance Here we have an example of a God who is so generous that this God pays us equally for saying yes to God's call. This same God understands when family responsibilities might make us late in responding to the needs of others. But this same God understands that we helped when we could. This God cares about us when we are broken, depressed and grieving: when we cannot respond. This God is always with us when we just sit in silence and wait for our burden to be lifted. This abundant God fed those who were hungry and gave clothing to wear when there was none. All of these holy ones were invited to the feast. And finally, this God went to the forgotten of the village and listened to the stories of guilt and despair and asked all of them to return to the community and experience new life.
The first workers forgot that if the entire community is not made whole the community continues to be broken. Our society often asks what is in it for me rather than asking what is in it for all of us. An entire community worked on a common project of picking grapes in a vineyard and each were paid in full.
Each day we all are welcomed by God, loved by God, and are promised to go home to God. I am overwhelmed with happiness.