Kingdom Equalization, by Pastor Kinsey
I don’t know if anybody here remembers when Freda was teaching Line Dancing classes here at Unity, a few years back? But I even snuck a few classes in with her – and I really loved it! And even though Freda was very encouraging, I just couldn’t come as often as I wanted. Eventually Freda moved on to bigger and better things, like teaching LD in the parks downtown and the Cultural Center.
Yesterday, I was reminded of this again, when on Curious City, they did a spot on how many line dancing songs out there are Chicago originals, like for example, The Casper Slide, by DJ Casper – which you might know better as the Cha-Cha Slide! If you’ve been to a wedding in the last 15 years, you’ve probably heard it at the reception. And if you haven’t danced it yourself, you’ve probably watched your kids or grandkids, or somebody, moving to it!
Like most line dances, everybody is dancing together in formation, everybody turning to the right, or the left, all together, and finally, DJ Casper will call –Reverse! And suddenly the dancers up front are now in the back, and the ones in back are in the lead, up front! But, they’re all dancing the same steps together.
Well in today’s gospel, Jesus tells a parable about a landowner and hired laborers, that calls into question our whole world of what, and who, is first, and last!
Jesus says, God’s kingdom is like a man, a housemaster, who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. They agreed to the usual daily wage and went to work. The housemaster also went out about 9:00, noon, and 3, and he saw others standing around in the places where day laborers gathered, and said to them, you also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right. And they went. Then once more at 5:00 – the work day was almost over! – but the man, the housemaster, found that there were still others searching for work, and hired them as well.
Just an hour later, it was quitting time, at 6:00, and he told his manager to call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last first, and going to the first hired, who were to be paid last.
This is when the big surprise comes about who was paid what! The last workers hired in the front of the line were paid… the usual daily wage. They only worked one hour! So when the first hired finally got to the front of the line, they anxiously awaiting their due. How much more would they be paid for having worked 12 times as much, from 6 to 6! But they received “the usual daily wage,” and when they did, they grumbled and complained to the housemaster that he had made these 5:00 ‘Jonny-come-lately,’ one-hour-workers, equal to them. Where was their reward for working through the heat of the day?!
But the housemaster reminded them how, when they were hired, they agreed to work for the usual daily wage. Therefore, you have been treated fairly, he told them. “Or are you envious,” says the landowner, “because I am generous?”
Darn right they were envious! And who among us wouldn’t be?!
Generosity to us is when we receive a bonus for working extra hard at our job. Generosity is giving a gift to a friend we’ve known for a long time because, well, they have been generous in their friendship with us all these years. Generosity – from an employer’s perspective, is hiring the most qualified person for the job because they’ve prepared hard for it in school, and have worked their way up the ladder.
We all live by these unwritten rules. We should get what we deserve, right? Or, as the Good Book says: ‘God helps those who help themselves.’ Except for one problem – that’s not in the Bible! That’s more the God of our own creation, the religiosity we tend to project onto God from the rules we’ve come to accept as righteous and just – though the way God works, is really the exact opposite.
It reminds me of the phrase, “Mr. Irrelevant” – which is used for the very last and final pick in the National Football League draft. The last college draft pick is really not even expected to make the team that he gets chosen by! And usually that turns out to be true in the highly competitive world of the NFL – the last will not be first. But one notable exception happened in 2009 when kicker Ryan Succop was picked dead last by the Kansas City Chiefs . He was “Mr. Irrelevant” that year, the 256th pick, but he went on to tie the record for the highest field goal success rate of any rookie kicker! Mr. Irrelevant, the last, become the first!
But notice too, in our parable, that the workers’ wages are not actually reversed. The housemaster told those hired first, they would receive the usual daily wage, and he told all the others, those hired at 9, noon, 3 and 5, that they would receive what is fair, whatever is right. To our minds – those of us who have had many and various work experiences – we are the ones who translate that expectation into what we know best, in our tit-for-tat world – that the later-hires should get something less than the usual daily wage, which is only fair, for working less than a full day’s work, right?!
But in the parable – which is like God’s kingdom, says Jesus – they all receive the exact same wage! So, in reality, their wages aren’t reversed, they are equalized.
And what I love about this parable is how the man, the housemaster, or landowner, doesn’t remind me of most of the bosses I’ve had. He’s not sitting in his office fussing over who he’s going to lay off! He’s not sitting in his office planning how to find better workers than the ones he has now. And he’s nothing like the most feared and richest bosses of our time, the hedge-fund managers, who buy whole companies just to trim the workforce, firing people they have never met, to make the company look more attractive financially, only to turn around and sell it for their own personal profit!
No, this boss is most concerned about, who it is that is looking for work, those he may have missed the first time around that are patiently hoping to be hired, the excluded and outcast; those who may not have graduated from high school, but still need to feed their families; those who have been injured; those who are undocumented. We know they’re out there – even though they’re not even counted in today’s unemployment statistics.
But this boss cares! And that’s a hint about what he’s doing with his crazy pay scale at the end of the day! The man, the housemaster, gives a fair and usual daily wage to everyone, no matter how long, or short, they work. Everyone deserves a living wage, everyone deserves to feed their families. Sounds similar to the Fight for a $15 minimum wage! Sounds like the community benefits agreements being negotiated around the city, that have various demands, including, jobs for local residents at a living wage, community green spaces, sustainability issues, and guaranteed low-income housing. A basic daily living!
Of course, the housemaster knows this kind of wage structure is going to make some “envious” of his “generosity.” All of us can feel that sting, in this parable!
But what if we saw it as, God’s grace, that is inviting us into the kingdom of heaven Matthew talks about, even now, already?! Our salvation is at hand, as Jesus says, and we all receive the same gracious gift – our daily bread, our daily sustenance, equally – like sharing, of the One Loaf at the Lord’s Table?!
Entering this way-of-living is a transformation into a sharing economy. We are called to work, by our Creator, and the work is a blessing and grace itself – when we are all given the opportunity. This is a Line Dance that is a pure joy and includes all! The first and last – the left and right!
When we meet our gracious and generous God, in Jesus, the bringer of the Kingdom of Heaven, we are not surprised everyone receives “the usual daily wage.” And then, instead of having envy – which is a breaking of the 10th Commandment – we learn to rejoice, and all dance together, in the re-creation of our world, as God has first created it for us!
Let us join the beat of this Kingdom-Paradise, today!