Today’s Gospel (Matthew 20: 1-16) confounds us in the West.
The landowner hires people in the morning and promises them a day’s wage. He goes out several times a day and sees men sitting idle and invites them to work. At one hour before quitting time, he goes out again and finds some men standing around and hires them.
When it’s time to pay wages, everybody gets the same – the daily wage. Will anybody ever work again for this landowner?
I never really got the context of this parable until I spent a few days in Houston, Texas, in the 1980s. Each morning I passed a corner where a number of Latino men were hanging out.
At first I had no idea why they were there.
But one time I saw a pick up drive up. Men ran toward the cab and begged for work. The driver took a few and drove off.
They were seeking work.
And so the men who were hanging around at the last hour were also seeking work. But as they said, “No one has hired us.”
The landowner knew what the people needed – a job and a daily wage.
Another hint is that they are all paid at the end of the day. They are not salaried worker, assured of a job.
They are people living off whatever they can get each day. If they don’t work, it’s very possible that their family won’t eat. If they only get a part of a day’s wage, their families will hardly have enough to eat.
So the landowner is concerned that all may have enough to live.
Work is for sustaining life – not for building up assets.
So in our discussion of economics from a faith perspective we need to remember this parable. Everyone who works should get what is needed to sustain life.
Those who are standing around idle may not be lazy; they may be the victims of an economic system that does not provide enough opportunities for work or which hoards wealth.
The ethics of the Kingdom of God confound all our economic theories.