This week at Bible study, the students and I looked at the parable found in Matthew 20:1-16, known as The Parable of the Vineyard Workers, or the Parable of the Generous Landowner, or, as Professor Amy-Jill Levine of Vanderbilt Divinity School sees it, it could be called the Parable of the Surprising Salaries.
Bottom line of the parable: workers were quite surprised when their boss paid all a full day's wage, even to those who had worked for just an hour.
After discussing the parable for a while, we came to the conclusion that the story, at its heart, is about one person making it possible for many people to support their families. A day's wage in Jesus' time would have purchased enough food to last about five days. The vineyard owner chose to make it possible for all of the workers to feed their families for that week.
When looking at that passage, we often look at the whole concept of fair vs. unfair; the workers who began work one hour before quitting time received the same wage as those who had been working since sun-up. For those who keep score of rights and wrongs, this one seems to be a whopper in the wrongs category. But the gospels are shot-through with an ethos that does not look at the world in the way that we do, keeping a tally of right and wrong, fair and unfair. The message seems to be one that encourages Jesus' followers to rejoice anytime someone receives a blessing, whether or not we perceive it as earned. Keep this in mind when listening to the political rhetoric of this endless presidential campaign season.
When a candidate begins to group people in categories of "us" and "them," be very suspicious. Read again the parable of the vineyard owner and workers, and be amazed at the generosity of God, and of Jesus' command that we go and do likewise. This is not the message that we hear from the political party and candidates who claim the title "Christian" in this election cycle. Those seem to be the people who are calling for doing away with health care for all, enacting tougher voter registration laws and dismantling what they see as "entitlement" programs. Those folks would absolutely hate the vineyard owner in the parable, which makes me wonder how much they care for the One who told the story in the first place.