25 Ordinary Time
Twenty-Fifth Sunday of the Year - Cycle A - Matthew 20:1-16
A priest in New Orleans after Katrina saw a child with one shoe. He asked where she had lost the other. The girl replied, "I didn't. I found this one."
God tells us through this parable: "Don't cut me down to your size. You fashion God to your image, but I am an original."
This may be the most puzzling of the forty parables of Jesus. It is found only in Matthew. Perhaps Mark, Luke, and John were afraid to touch it. Yet, when it is thrown on the lab table and heated over a Bunson burner, it teaches much about God. He tells us how those of us who have extra bucks should treat the poor. Christ tells us of people's right to a job at a family living wage.
Today's minimum wage is peanuts. In 2004, over 50% of US income went to the top 20% of our households. In 2002 and 2003, a woman with a $7 million home paid only $771 in federal taxes. In 2004, Americans spent 34 billion on their pets. One woman's will left twelve million dollars to her dog. Result? Christ is ticked off big time.
There are 2000 verses on the poor in the Bible. Get the feeling that God is telling us something?
Two thirds of Christ's parables concern money. He knew dollars were important. This is not a pie in the sky Jesus.bThe laborers of the parable were the lowest class of Jewish workingmen. They lived on the poverty level. If they were unemployed for a day, their family went to bed hungry. Their situation was known to be so bad that when they were hired for a day's work, the Bible commanded they be paid before sundown. Thus, they were able to shop at Wal-Mart for supper.
There were seasons in Palestine when this tale occurred. These were at grape harvest in the fall. By mid-September came torrential rains. Thus began the frantic effort to save the grapes. Every laborer was drafted. (William Barclay)
The Jewish farmer worked from sunrise to sunset. It was a brutal twelve hour day in 100 plus degrees heat. The times when the migrant workers would be hired were at 6 AM, 9, noon, 3 PM, and 5. With storms coming, the vineyard owner pushed the panic button and hustled to find men as late as 5 PM, one hour before closing.
The men standing around Home Depot at 5 PM were not winos. They were unemployed. The Home Depot was the labor exchange. They came there before sunrise. Their lucky friends had been hired. The balance waited hoping. Slaves were better off than laborers. Slaves were assured of three hots and a cot aka three meals and a bed.
Jesus possessed hands-on information of the employment operation. He knew the system well precisely because He probably shaped-up cold mornings in Nazareth. My immigrant father had to do it in New York City. He told me you never forgot the humiliation. We permit the shape-up to exist today in the US - especially among Latinos. Many thousands of Latinos shape up at dawn daily across the US.
The parable's hero is not the laborer but the vineyard owner. He is a substitute for God. This parable upsets our picture of God. It tells us that the most advanced scientific instruments are a waste in trying to understand Him.
What is God up to? There is an indication in today's Isaiah 55:8, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts; my ways not your ways." God gets His divine jollies when He witnesses generosity in us. Remember how Christ praised the widow who gave her last coin at the temple. We would tell the widow to keep the coin. She had more need of it than the temple. But not so the Nazarene! Why? He took care of her wants in His own way. Luke you will recall has Him saying, "Give and it shall be given you." Can you recall when you gave away a dollar and did not get two back? I can't.
Want to help the poor? Lobby to get the minimum wage raised to a family living level. 40% of US minimum wage workers are the bread winners in their families. Many are single mothers. Hurry. Every 43 seconds a child is born into poverty in the US. Every 53 minutes a child dies from the effects of poverty.
The silver lining of Katrina was that it made the invisible poor visible. Had Christ been in New Orleans in 2005, He would have been Him in the Superdome among the poor. Since the US government subsidizes our banks, airlines, railroads, stock exchanges, and the wealthy, why should it not subsidize our poor?