Homily – September 24, 2017

Just imagine for a moment that you are part of that labor pool standing in the market place hoping to be hired for the day. You have no education, no job security. You are at the mercy of the several land owners who are hiring that day. There is a lot of haggling going on, you’re hoping for the best wage possible, hopefully a fair wage. It’s a bargaining process. There are times when the harvest is a good one and the owner wants to get it off the fields as soon as possible. Because he needs you, you can ask for a better wage. If the harvest is poor then you take the best deal you can get. You’ve got a family to feed.

The working poor are always at the mercy of the market. Recently we read about a massive bakery here in the city that supplies most stores and restaurants in the city. The men and women who work in the plant are from a labor pool which acts as a go between the owners of the bakery and the people in the pool. The workers have no union and are paid the minimum wage, if they are lucky. Two such workers were killed on the job. No compensation. Totally unjust. The company was cited different times for failing to meet safety standards. They got a slap on the wrist. We don’t have to go to Asia for examples of the exploitation of the working poor.

In the gospel we have this landowner looking to hire men to work in his fields. He promises the men he hired,’ I’ll pay you whatever is right.’ At end of the day each man is given a full day’s wage. The men who worked in the heat of the day found this unfair. They were envious of the landowner’s generosity. That’s not the way it works.

We think of justice in terms of what is fair, of what people deserve. So we would say that the people who worked longer deserved more. But God doesn’t see it that way. God thinks of justice in terms of people’s dignity, their right to a decent life.

The people who came late had the same right to a decent life as those who had worked all day, so they are all treated equally. Nothing is taken from anyone, but all are treated in accord with their dignity, their right to a decent life. Such is God’s justice.

“My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.” Perhaps we would have a better world if we were to adopt some of God’s ways. After all, “the Lord is just in all his ways,” and that is something which cannot be said of all our ways.

There is another way of reading this parable beyond a moral lesson in labor relations.

What God is doing time and again in the public ministry of Jesus is giving the tax collectors and sinners, the outcasts and the prostitutes an equal share of God’s love and mercy. God has time for the riff raff and the unwashed. The righteous thought they were more worthy of Jesus’ time and attention. Jesus thought and behaved otherwise.

It is always good to remember that God’s ways are not our ways. We should thank God for that.