The parallels between last Sunday’s parable (Matthew 20:1-16) of the generous vineyard owner and today’s economic realities are just too startling to ignore. I’m still mulling them over.
The vineyard owner (an honest to goodness job creator) is not hampered by profit margins. He seems to understand his primary obligation, (beyond providing for his own needs) is to provide jobs for his community. Why else does he keep going back to the market square to hire those who haven’t found work? Even hiring people an hour before quitting time.
Quite startling behavior, especially when you consider the “job-less recovery” we’re living through today. If there is such a thing. It’s awfully hard to be jobless and in recovery. They’re sort of mutually exclusive categories for most of us.
But then the parable gets weirder. The vineyard owner pays them all a living wage regardless of whether they worked 1 hour or 12. Not what they deserved…what they needed to live.
Jesus says this is what the kingdom is like. Exactly what our world is not like. That in itself isn’t too terribly shocking. This isn’t the kingdom.
What I don’t understand is why Jesus vision of the kingdom is rejected, even by Jesus followers. No, this world isn’t the kingdom, but this world doesn’t have to be this bad either. We can live by Kingdom values now, and reap Kingdom benefits now. That’s what Jesus teaches over and over. That’s what discipleship is all about.
No, we would rather knock the corners off Jesus vision, and shave down the edges so it fits our world view and supports the status quo. Anything, it seems, to avoid expanding our world view to make it more in line with Jesus vision.
I find it morally repugnant and ethically indefensible that vastly profitable corporations like Walmart, McDonald’s and the like, pay their employees so pitifully that they need to be subsidized by the US tax payer through programs like food stamps.
This subsidy goes directly into the profit lines of companies like Walmart and McDonald’s. Talk about rewarding bad behavior. The worse these companies behave, the bigger their taxpayer subsidy.
Now, I don’t envy profitable companies their success. What I find despicable is that their success comes at the expense of their exploited employees. Success brings responsibility. In terms of the Kingdom Jesus describes, that responsibility is not toward profits, it’s toward people.
Profits may suffer to benefit people, people may never suffer to benefit profits. That’s just Kingdom Ethics 101.
If we were to apply the Jesus vision to our world today, some pretty basic things would happen. For starters:
1. We would raise the minimum wage. $15 an hour is today’s denarius.
2. Set a realistic poverty level and a minimum standard of living. Affirm, like the vineyard owner, that everyone who works is entitled to provide for themselves and their families from their labor. Corporations (vineyard owners) that fail to meet this standard, so that their employees must seek public assistance, should have their profits taxed, not subsidized, to make up the difference.
These steps come right out of Jesus parable.
Now, I know that there are people who won’t agree with these conclusions. Let me be the first to say I know they’re not necessarily morally repugnant or ethically challenged.
I just don’t understand their position. And it’s not like I haven’t tried. I’ve read, I’ve watched interviews. It still makes no sense to me. I don’t recognize the world they are portraying. Where people spurn meaningful work in order to sit around and do nothing. Prefer a handout over the pride of earning a living.
It’s like they’re talking about a parallel universe. So, I want to interrupt them with some good news.
“I see your problem, you fell for the head fake and you’ve landed in someone’s crappy fantasy world. Not to worry. Reality is not as bad as you think. People aren’t as bad as you think. And these issues aren’t as complicated as you make them out to be. We can do this!”
I’ve found that the only reason people choose to sit on the sidelines is when they realize the playing field is permanently tilted against them and they can only lose.
I will be the first to admit I am not a financial wizard. Most times I can’t balance my checkbook. Nor am I a public policy wonk. That’s my son.
I’m a writer. I’m a naive dreamer. I’m a preacher who muses and expounds upon about the life of faith and does his best to be faithful himself. Guilty as charged. I’ll cop to all of it.
Tell me then, how do you understand what this parable and Jesus vision of the Kingdom says to us today? Let’s have a meaningful dialogue and start making things better for people who need our help.