rewired: the labourers in the vineyard & the problem with fairness
god be with you.
So throughout the fall here at RDLUC we’re exploring the parables of Jesus.
We chose to do that because parables do something really important –
they draw us into the very truth and wisdom of the faith and spirituality of Christ;
a faith and spirituality of being fully human and an active part of Gods world,
of coming to be rewired in new and reverent ways,
of coming to let our lives be guided by those divine rhythms of hope, joy, peace, and love.
We did that last week by exploring the question of why we need to be forgiving,
and this morning we tackle a parable that confronts us with a paradigm shift –
a new, more divine, way of seeing and being in the world.
So knowing we’re entering into these things for a reason,
that they can pull us deeper into the life we’re all here seeking and creating,
let’s take a moment to enter into this one boldly and openly with a prayer …
Lets just jump into it shall we?
The parable we’re wrestling with today usually goes by the name of The Labourers in the Vineyard.
We’ll talk through it together so we can all be on the same page,
but also because in some ways, this parable is a bit different than the other ones Jesus tells.
Usually when Jesus tells a parable,
and this is true with parables in general,
he starts off with a hook,
with something shocking and scandalous.
Something like a son wishing his dad was dead,
or a shepherd losing a sheep,
or a story where the main character is a woman.
All things that would right away get our attention,
pulling us into this creative tension.
But when it comes to the Labourers in the Vineyard, the story starts out well, pretty tame.
There’s a field that needs to be worked.
And just because, lets add some east coast flavour to this parable and say its a potato field at Pete’s Potato Palace. So first thing in the morning the foreman heads out to the market place to find some workers.
There’s nothing odd there – that’s pretty normal.
The market place would have operated a lot like our Cash Corner.
Skilled and good workers would show up and hope to get hired.
So the foreman shows up and hires people and they all agree on a fair wage before heading to work.
Again, nothing shocking there.
The foreman soon realizes he needs more workers and heads out again at 9,
and then again at noon, again at 3, and then one final time at 5,
with the whole process being repeated each time with a fair wage being agreed upon for the work being done.
Again, a bit odd the foreman didn’t know how many workers were needed, but nothing outlandish yet.
So the day ends and the whistle blows,
and the workers all punch out
and hang out by the foreman’s trailer to get paid.
Pete then comes out and tells his foreman to pay the people their wages,
but you know what,
start with the ones we hired last.
Again, a bit odd, but again, nothing scandalous.
So the workers all line up,
and we can imagine,
the ones hired last are thinking they’ll get paid half or a third or whatever of a days wage is because, after all, that’s only fair.
And the guys hired first are thinking they’ll get the full days wage because again, that is only fair.
And its here,
almost at the very end of the parable,
that things get legit strange.
Its here the whole thing turns on its head and the hook, shock, and scandal appears.
They all get paid exactly the same.
Lets just pull over here and let that sink in.
They all got paid exactly the same amount!
The guy who worked 1 hour got paid as the same who worked 12!
Isn’t that shocking?!
How scandalous is that?!
I mean, even if we don’t put ourselves in the shoes of the first-hired, we should be losing our minds,
because as we all know,
as we all have experienced,
that’s not how the world works!
Thats not how its supposed to be!
Are you with me?
The parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard is shocking because it goes against one of the foundational paradigms that guides how we order and structure our world.
Its scandalous because it goes against how we’re taught to relate to one another and make good decisions.
We’re losing our minds because what happened to those labourers wasn’t fair.
We like things to be fair, don’t we?
Its how so much of what we know and what we do is founded.
Its orderly, its easily applied, it makes sense, its logical, and I mean, it even seems Jesusy.
Well, I was first in line – true, thats fair, come on in first.
Well, I worked the longest – true, you should get paid more, thats fair.
Well, I’ve been here from the start – fair, you’ll give you more privileges.
Well, I put more into it – good point, that’s fair, we’ll recognize you more.
Who can argue with that logic?!
What could be possibly be the problem with that?!
This parable is about the problem with that.
This parable is about the problem with fairness.
Jesus is pointing out here,
is in the logic which makes fairness work,
the very logic we just walked through.
Anyone notice it?
There’s 4 problems with it
I was here first …
I worked the longest …
I was here from the start …
I put in more …
I, I, I, I.
The problem with fairness is that it always begins and ends with the ‘I.’
The problem with fairness is that it’s self-referential.
The problem is way too easily and way too often fairness is really saying ‘But what about me?’
And the problem with that is the kind of world it creates and the way it teaches us to relate to one another:
it creates a world thats intentionally competitive, which means a world of scarcity, aggression, and protectionism, which means a world that is fundamentally divided;
and it teaches us to relate to one another in a way where the only reason we look at whats in our neighbours dish is to make sure they didn’t get more than we did.
And we don’t have to look too far to see this in action:
We see it in the primary objections to immigration and refugee policies.
We see behind the reason people say ‘Yah, but don’t all lives matter’ in response to justice movements like Black Lives Matter.
We see it when Trump says Puerto Ricans they “just need to work harder.”
We see it when Kenney says that despite what it may mean for the kids, it’s only fair that parents know if their kids join a Gay Straight Alliance at school.
We see it in neighbourhoods, towns, and cities who argue they should get more schools, clean water, and services because they pay more taxes.
We even see it here in church when we say ‘Well we’ve always done it this way.’
And despite that all being “fair” and despite that all making sense,
what Jesus is pointing out here,
the reason why he’s offering such a scandalous parable,
is that God’s world and the way God wants us to relate to one another,
is not grounded and guided by fairness but by something else all together.
And we can find that something else in the exchange that takes place between the workers hired first and the foreman:
“Hey, that’s not fair!” they exclaimed, “We worked all day and we get the same amount as them?!”
But what does the foreman tell him?
“Do you think I don’t have the right to dispose of my money as I wish?
Or does my generosity somehow prick at you?”
Why did Pete pay them all the same?
He wanted to be generous.
How does God want our world to work?
How does God want us to relate to one another?
Its a life and world of generosity because at the heart of the Jesus movement,
at the heart of our faith and spirituality,
is the scandalously sacred idea that we are all one.
Its the beautiful truth that regardless of where we come from, who we love, how much we make, and what we look like,
we are all one.
And because we are one,
because your needs are my needs,
because my health is your health,
because we are responsible for, invested in, and connected to, one another,
how we structure our world and how we relate to one another naturally shifts towards a paradigm of generosity.
Its a shift towards a world that is big enough for everyone.
Its a shift towards a life where the only reason we look into our neighbours dish is to make sure they have enough.
Its a world and a life that benefits not just ourselves, but everyone.
Its a world and a life that exists for the sake of the other.
Its a world and life built on the foundational principle of generosity.
So whats this parable offer us as people looking to live in a new way?
It offers us the invitation and challenge to see ourselves and each other as one,
and because we are one,
because we are all responsible for, invested in, and connected to one another,
leave behind the attitude of fairness,
and let generosity guide and shape all we do.