8"When the day's work was over, the owner of the vineyard instructed his foreman, 'Call the workers in and pay them their wages. Start with the last hired and go on to the first.'
9-12"Those hired at five o'clock came up and were each given a dollar. When those who were hired first saw that, they assumed they would get far more. But they got the same, each of them one dollar. Taking the dollar, they groused angrily to the manager, 'These last workers put in only one easy hour, and you just made them equal to us, who slaved all day under a scorching sun.'
13-15"He replied to the one speaking for the rest, 'Friend, I haven't been unfair. We agreed on the wage of a dollar, didn't we? So take it and go. I decided to give to the one who came last the same as you. Can't I do what I want with my own money? Are you going to get stingy because I am generous?'
16"Here it is again, the Great Reversal: many of the first ending up last, and the last first."
This is a familiar story and I have generally--always--understood it as a story about human generosity and fairness. After reading a commentary on Sacred Space, the Irish Jesuit prayer site, I have a new and more profound understanding. This passage is from Matthew's gospel which was written to a community of Jewish Christians. He is at pains throughout the gospel to demonstrate how Jesus and Christianity grew out of Jewish faith and is fully compatible with it. However, one of the issues that impacted the earliest communities, especially in Jerusalem, was whether or not new members needed to go through the Jewish initiation rites. Eventually it was decided that this was not necessary nor was it necessary to maintain the Jewish purity rites and practices.
Seen in this light, the parable is not about how much laborers are to be paid nor even about the generosity of employers. It is about the generosity of the Divine and the Divine's offer of love and life. That offer is not modulated by the past history of a believer or a community. Those whose lineage stretches back thousands of years of Jewish faith and those who recently entered into the community of disciples are offered the fullness of the Divine life and love. The only contingency is the extent to which a disciple accepts that offer. No one deserves that love more than another. No one earns that love. It is offered fully and completely to everyone. The latecomers--so to speak--can accept that fullness to the same extent as those who have been long time believers.
In human terms this may not make sense and may even be unfair. In the world of the Divine, it makes perfect sense...thankfully.
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Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States