The parable of the labourers and the vineyard, which we will hear this coming Sunday, suddenly seems to be very relevant during this time of “coronatide.” All our lives have been turned upside down to some extent, especially our work lives. There are many who have lost their jobs, or have been laid off not knowing if they will be called back. There are others who have found new opportunities, and there are those who are working harder than ever. Those we thought were of “high value” to our society do not, perhaps, seem as important as they once did, and those to whom we gave so little thought, frontline workers, grocery workers, delivery people, have now become our heroes.
The well-known parable of the labourers and the vineyard speaks of a world that is turned upside down, where those who arrive latest on the scene are paid the same wage as those who were there since the beginning of the day. It seems unfair, and those who had put in a whole day’s work are righteously enraged. The world has an order, and in this parable that order is upset.
Order is an important principle. It helps us regulate our common life so that everyone is treated fairly and justly. It helps us live our common life safely and securely. Order and peace are often thought to be handmaidens. Indeed, as Canadians, we pride ourselves on the ideal of “peace, order, and good government.” Thus, we have laws and rules that seek to uphold principles of “natural justice.” However, sometimes our quest for an ordered vision of society can leave the vulnerable behind.
God has a greater vision of justice and fairness than we can ever hope to realize. And yet, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear, we may just be able to catch a glimpse of the vision of God. This parable reminds us that God sees the needs, the longings, the desires, the hopes, and the wounds, of every one of us. We all need something different, and God seeks to provide for us in our moments of need. God sees the world differently than we do because he looks with boundless compassion upon all of his creation and the individuals that make it up. Sometimes, the order of things needs to be shaken up so that we can have a chance to get on board with God’s radically compassionate, radically just vision.
Jesus told this parable to give the people of his day a bit of shake. He tells them that those who think they are first, may very well not be the most important in the pecking order, or worthy of more than anyone else. Likewise, those who show up late for the party may be just as worthy of a day’s wage as the one who worked all day. True justice is always tempered with compassion. A just vision will see beyond a role, beyond a title, beyond a caricature, and see a real person with real needs, real concerns, living a real life. For Jesus, no matter how late someone shows up, they are just as treasured as those who have been with him since the beginning. Even though we may count ourselves and others as unworthy, by God’s compassionate grace, we are all found worthy.
Perhaps this time, in which so many of us have been affected in our professional lives by COVID-19, is in a way a sort of parable itself. Who have we disparaged? Who have we not valued? Who have we considered unworthy of the wage? Who might we value differently than we did before the pandemic? And can we see with the eyes of Jesus?