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Jesus’ Parable for Labor Day

The story is quite simple, the meaning a bit more obscure. A farmer scans the available day laborers to work in his vineyard, hires a few in the morning, and agrees to pay them a denarius for the day, what a Roman soldier would make. Generous, actually. At 9, then noon, and again at 3, probably recognizing that he needed additional help, he hires more. And finally, just before quitting time, he hires even more help. At the end of the day, he pays those last hired a denarius, and so too for those hired at 9, noon, and 3. By now, those hired in the morning are expecting a big paycheck, but lo and behold, they too get a denarius. Complaining, they are reminded that they are receiving what was promised. And this, Jesus proclaims enigmatically, is what God is like.

At day labor “markets”, the strongest and smartest are picked first, leaving for last the weak, the sick, the elderly, the stranger, who, because of their situations, have become the poorest and most in need of the work. And nobody wants them.

In our society, where automation and technology threaten to put more and more of us at the end of the line, it might prove helpful to turn to Jesus’ parable in our striving to determine anew the meaning of labor and reward. Not that his teaching provides the answer, but it does challenge our traditional options and suggests new and different ideas.

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