You can see them in our city every day waiting around the builders’ providers stores. They are the day laborers waiting to be hired. They are not begging at the intersections like so many do. They are waiting for employment, for the chance to earn a daily wage. They have come mostly across the southern border, from Mexico and Central America. Many are undocumented and most have had to pay large sums of money to traffickers and face untold dangers to get here. They have come with a dream – to be free of the poverty and violence wrecking their own communities, so that they can work and one day bring their families to freedom. They live with the daily threat of arrest and deportation. In the midst of heated debates over immigration and amnesty, they know that the politicians voice only what they think their constituents believe so as to secure their own jobs.
Today’s parable of the workers in the vineyard is introduced as another image of the kingdom of God. There is no end to space there for more and more people. Throughout the day, the landowner goes out to bring in more people. The more that are brought in, the lighter the workload for those already there. That’s a pleasing thought. Surely then they must be welcome. However, when the landowner offers the same small wage to all, the welcome turns sour. This is an image of the kingdom of God, and those within are not above envy, are not above having a sense of entitlement, are not above exclusion of others. It was a problem in the Christian community among the Jews and the Gentiles at the time of the writing of the Gospel, and it continues to be a problem in our Christian communities and societies today.
“These last ones,” the workers complained, “have worked only one hour and you have made them equal to us.” There is the key phrase – “You have made them equal to us.” This notion, most times buried in the sub-conscious, is the driving force behind the conscious actions of discrimination. It fuels racism, sexism, classism in church and society. It fuels the opposition to amnesty for the newest immigrants and asylum seekers in our countries. It fuels our own attitudes to people who have not had the same economic and educational advantages. It is a driving evil in our hearts. The landowner recognized it and tried to set the workers straight.
There are very few who would not say that we are all equal in God’s eyes. The problem that we fail to acknowledge is that all are not equal in our eyes. We are reminded by Isaiah in the first reading that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and that our ways are not God’s ways. This is a strong accusation for those of us think we are above another in any way. But, Isaiah also admonishes us to turn, from our wicked thoughts, to our God who is generous in forgiving.
Elizabeth Ferguson, OP