September 10, 2017
The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity
"I owe, I owe, so off to work I go."
That sentiment, plastered on the cars of many people who will be stuck in rush-hour traffic on the way to work Monday, seems to resonate with the majority of American workers. For many, work is a drudgery one must endure, rather than a vocation one can embrace. Certainly, I can relate between the two!
According to a 2016 survey, just 49.6 percent of Americans are satisfied with their jobs, which is actually the highest that number has been since 2005. In an age when job hunting is highly competitive, just landing one is a big deal. According to the numbers, it seems that liking the job you land is icing on the cake.
So what's the biggest downer about going to work?
According to another recent survey, it's not about the money. In fact, wages appear well down the list of things that employees tend to gripe about. What really makes the workday a bummer for many is the fact that their employers don't listen to them, don't really know them and don't take their input seriously. Employees don't feel like they're invested in the company's mission and there's no sense of mutual benefit for employers and employees in determining goals and outcomes. In other words, employees don't feel as though they're part of a team -- they're only worker bees who do what's required. It's the kind of thing that makes an employee feel like an interchangeable part in a machine. You are what you produce.
And then there's the relative value of one employee to another. As job markets get tighter and competition for jobs heats up, it's easy for workers to look around the other cubicles and compare themselves to their co-workers. That recent graduate occupying the next cube might be making as much as you -- even though you have more experience -- or have the boss's ear in a way you never could. All of this doesn't seem fair at all.
And maybe that's what all this dissatisfaction is really about. We want what's coming to us, or at least what we perceive we are "owed" for our work in terms of influence, value and compensation. Maybe it's because that, for us Americans, it's all about fairness.
We want to be valued in a fair way, equal to the standards and rubrics applied to our co-workers, and we especially want those who write our reviews and sign our checks to appreciate us -- fairly.
A disgruntled worker reading the parable of today's Gospel would likely see it as typical of the way the system works. You grind out a full day's work and some Johnny-come-lately gets the same wage as you do for a fraction of the work. To read the parable that way, however, betrays some of the bias we have about ourselves and our relative worth in comparison to others.
What Jesus is trying to teach us, however, is that real value isn't determined by things like one's resume, one's paycheck or one's seniority on the job. In a theocratic economy, real value isn't found by climbing to the top of the corporate ladder, but by holding the ladder for others.
The context for this parable takes us back to chapter 19. In 19:16-22, a rich young man comes to Jesus seeking assurance of eternal life. He's been a good boy, obeying all the commandments. This alone should shoot him to the top of God's list of favorites.
But Jesus crushes his sense of self-worth when he challenges the young man to "be perfect" by selling his possessions, giving the money to the poor and only then following Jesus. It's an invitation to downward mobility but, ironically, it's often within that downward mobility that true satisfaction and worth are found.
Jesus turns to his disciples and gives them the lesson that it's hard for the rich to enter the kingdom because their worth is bound up in their possessions. A person might have the perfect spiritual resume, but until they are willing to be generous toward others, both physically and spiritually, then they will be outside the kingdom of heaven.
This troubles the disciples, who like many people in their day believed that wealth was a sign of God's blessing. Peter then pipes up with the obvious question, "Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?" Jesus assures him and the others that their dispossession of family, job, wealth and status won't go unrewarded. In order to be first in God's world, you have to be willing to be last.
So now we arrive at the story! To illustrate this point, Jesus tells the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. The harvest is ready and the landowner, serving as his own HR department, comes to the marketplace to do some hiring. He starts with the early birds who are likely the most eager workers and who probably have a good reputation for getting things done -- or they really need the money. They agree on a wage and he sends them into the vineyard.
Still more workers are needed, so the boss returns to the Manpower office at 9 a.m., and again at noon, again at 3 p.m. and still again at 5 p.m. (Usually, work stopped about 6 p.m.) This last lot seems to have been a day late and a dollar short, given that they hadn't yet been hired after standing around idle all day. The assumption that Jesus' hearers would have, as would we, is that the laborers would each be paid commensurate with the hours they worked. After all, that's only fair, right?
When it's time for the denarii to be distributed (laborers would be paid at the end of each day), the landowner calls the manager of the vineyard and tells him to start settling the payroll with the last group hired. The shocking tale of the pay stub, however, is that they received a huge check for just one hour of work!
This is exciting. You can imagine the murmur going through the line. If these ne'er-do-wells who were lucky to get hired at all, got this very generous amount for an hour of work, imagine what they will get for working three hours, six hours and nine hours!
Yet, as the other workers approach the paymaster, they hear disturbing news. Everyone, regardless of hours, is getting the same amount. Totally not fair!
So we can empathize with the early bird group who, having heard what the others were getting, expected to be paid more since they provided more relative value than the others.
What do they do? What would we do?
We would lodge a complaint, and they did as well. They filed their grievance with HR seeking redress. They saw their labor as being worth more than anyone else's, especially those who showed up last.
But the landowner reminds them that they're getting exactly what they agreed upon first thing in the morning. It's the employer's prerogative to give whatever wage he wants to the others. "Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?" he asks. "Or are you envious because I am generous?"
Thus, says Jesus, "the last will be first and the first will be last."
According to New Testament scholar Craig Keener, Jewish teachers used a similar parable to describe the day of God's judgment, but used it to make precisely the opposite point that Jesus was making. Israel, who had worked hard and been faithful for the long haul, would receive high wages while the Gentiles, who had come in much later, would receive little. Like the rich young man, many Jews believed that their spiritual resumes should give them priority status and a little extra for their faithful labor over time.
But Jesus reveals that God's economy doesn't work that way. God chooses to be generous and extend the same grace to the least and the last as God does to those who think they've earned it. In fact, in the next few verses, Jesus reveals just how far he will go to identify with the least and the last, giving himself over to both pious Jewish leaders and cruel Gentiles to die for them both.
The point of all this is that following Jesus is to join him in the path of downward mobility. It means giving up our resumes, spiritual and otherwise, and recognizing our own insufficiency and need for grace. It means laying aside our ambition for wealth and power and embracing a life of generosity, finding our satisfaction not in the wealth of our possessions but in the fewness of our wants. And it means understanding that our ultimate worth is found not in titles and power, but in service to others.
If we're really working for Jesus, then Christians should be among the most satisfied of workers, no matter what our earthly profession at which we toil on a daily basis. Whether we're digging ditches or leading a Fortune 500 company, our ultimate satisfaction is found in giving our lives away in the service of others.
What if we saw our jobs not as something to be endured, but as part of our vocation as followers of Jesus? What if we spent every day, not comparing ourselves to others, but doing all in our power to lift others up?
I bet, that those of you who have watched my video yesterday or today can see some intermingling of how we should view others! Seems to be the theme.
Jesus calls us to be part of a team that always needs our input, our investment and our best -- and all for the glory of the rule of God. Joining that team, no matter what our earthly profession, is the key to 100 percent satisfaction!
Let us pray.
That those who are living through and recovering from Hurricane Irma, may find help, comfort, shelter and help with needs during this troubling time. We pray to the Lord. (Lord hear our prayer.)
That those still recovering and rebuilding from hurricane Harvey be given hope, grace, patience and assistance in this time of need. We pray to the Lord.
That by participating in the sacraments and meditating on Scripture, Christians may become more aware of their mission to evangelize. We pray to the Lord.
For the conversion of the world from terrorism, malice, arrogance, and disbelief. We pray to the Lord.
That all may contribute to the common good and to the building of a society that places the human person at the center. We pray to the Lord.
For an increase of vocations to the priesthood to the consecrated life. We pray to the Lord.
For refugees and those exiled from their homeland; that they may be given welcome and shelter.
For the grace this week to love our neighbor as ourselves. We pray to the Lord.
For the family members of our church community, that they find healing, grace and peace. We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, in Your great mercy hear our prayers and hold us close. We ask all this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.
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