Sunday, January 29, 2017

Blessed Johnny Come Lately

Matthew: 20.1-16 Laborers in the vineyard
Transept painting at Faith Lutheran Church
   I've been making small paintings of French vineyards and in a post described myself as "still working in the vineyard".  That made me think about the parable of Jesus in Matthew (20. 1 - 16) where laborers are hired to work, some early in the day and others in the last hours and they all get paid the same amount, regardless of how long they have labored that day. The weary day-long workers grumble: "These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat." The landowner replies: "Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to the last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?" 
   At first glance, and to most people, the allocation of payments seems unfair. But, to me, as a relative Johnny come lately to church, there was a definite justness to it. I look at the long-day worker and think, he was chosen early on and did not spend the day wondering how he was going to pay for his next meal. The long-day laborer knew he would be paid. He knew what his story would be for that day. 
  Although I was baptized as an infant (no doubt the influence of my maternal grandmother), my family growing up belonged to the Unitarian-Universalist church. I was told, on a regular basis, by some of my Christian junior high classmates that I was going to hell. Most of these proclamations even came from the daughter of a minister. Now later, as I have spent almost three decades enveloped  in the church, I am curious about the junior high schoolers sitting in their own pew. The message I hear every week is more consistent with the landowner's claim: you agreed to the wage and here is your pay! Good news! And, everyone else can lay claim to the reward, because they have come to work in the vineyard. Why would the outreach of young Christians consist of condemnation. Shouldn't it be a hallelujah?
   Of course, Jesus, in this parable is speaking of the Kingdom of God. I believe this parable also speaks to our wild, democratic experiment: The United State of America. Everyone, except the Native Americans (and they too, no doubt, ultimately made their way from the birthplace of humanity) came from somewhere else. We came to the American vineyard in search of a better life. Has the story really ever changed? Some of us are bonafide day-long laborers. Some of us are first generation. We are all in the vineyard. We are all worthy. This is the way our country has always worked. Why would we change it now? If our country is such a shining example, wouldn't we give a hearty welcome to people who are carrying out the brave and challenging move of our forebears? 

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