It’s not about you. My nun and I reflect on this periodically. Even at 80, she gets this gentle reminder from the Lord. Perhaps primarily for the point of passing it on to me. Except that it’s not about me.
Indeed, the manager in the Parable of the Day Laborers has no speaking lines. If s/he has an opinion regarding the instructions of how to compensate the workers, they do not voice it. If the manager was hoping to pay people in the order of how they were hired, thus to perhaps avoid criticism and grumbling, we do not know. Was the manager tempted to respond to the complaints, to defend or excuse the owner’s choices? They say not a word. It’s not about the manager.
Where do we imagine ourselves in this story? Perhaps our primary response is gratitude, knowing that we did nothing worthy of the generosity of God’s blessings on our lives. Or we see ourselves as having been laboring in the vineyard all day. We have put in our time at church, through years of service, and we are resentful when new people seem to be first in line for attention. Getting the best jobs with the most reward.
I check in with Amy-Jill Levine, Professor of NT and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School, for her reading of this parable. Via her book, short stories by jesus, available at your local library. First, she helpfully dismantles traditional anti-Jewish interpretations. And then encourages us to think about economics, that Jesus’ story is about the marketplace as well as the vineyard.
What if we are challenged to see ourselves as the landowner? How would we understand that role? Where giving people just payment goes beyond what is required. That all would have enough to eat.
“If the householder can afford it, he should continue to put others on the payroll, pay them a living wage (even if they cannot put in a full day’s work), and so allow them to feed their families while keeping their dignity intact. The point is practical, it is edgy, and it is a greater challenge to the church today….” p. 236
A point worth pondering.
And what about those of us who have labored through the heat of the day? Can we be happy for the good fortune of our co-workers? Can we take satisfaction in knowing that we have worked hard and accomplished much? That our service is its own reward, and the compensation is just.
May we feel joy when new workers arrive to join us. May we build relationships with our fellow laborers so that we can be glad for the generosity God shows them. May we be grateful for the opportunity to work, and be satisfied with a job well done. And may we learn how to be challenged by the ancient and modern reality “that people need jobs and that others have excess funds” (237) and that in the kingdom of God, everyone works and receives a living wage.