If you read my previous post about the Parable of the Laborers in the Field, you will recall that I had a dilemma. I couldn’t find anything positive from my interpretation of the story.Why would those who toiled longer be paid the same wages as those who did the least? After years of ignoring this parable, because I couldn’t reconcile it with my own personal beliefs, I decided to approach it one more time. This time I would try to have a more open mind.
My journey back to this parable coincided with one of those awful economic down turns that expanded the ranks of the unemployed. I had friends who, through no fault of their own, lost their jobs and were struggling with the hardships of unemployment. I watched them struggle with self-esteem, great financial sacrifices, strained relationships, and hopelessness. Unemployment is now, and always has been, a curse. It saps you of all energy.
With that recession as a back drop, I reread that parable with renewed interest. This time I focused my attention on the plight of those who stood at the square hoping to get a job. I could imagine one such father leaving his home in the morning knowing that he and his family had eaten their last morsel of food. At the time of this parable, there was no social safety net. When the food ran out, people simply starved.
There was no way this poor man could feed his family. He exhausted every avenue available to him. As he left out the door, he looked back and saw the utter fear on his wife’s face. She was trying to encourage him to do all he could to get a job — any job. They just needed enough to get some food.
As this man arrived at the town square, desperate for any job, he was instantly discouraged. The square was already filled with dozens of men equally focused on getting a job. How in the world could he compete for a scarce opportunity of a job against so many others who had the same need? How could he go home and tell his hungry wife and children that they would have to go a day without any food? A deep sense of hopelessness and despair engulfed my imaginary friend.
Then, a miracle. An owner of a vineyard came to the square looking for laborers. He promised them a full day’s work at a wage that could sustain this man and his family for a long, long time. By some stroke of luck, the man was hired. How his day changed! He had gone from abject hopelessness to extreme happiness in a matter of minutes. Sure the work ahead of him was gong to be hard. But now he knew he could face his wife and family with joy.
While things looked good for my friend, let’s focus on those who did not get hired. How had their day been impacted by seeing others hired while they were left behind? True, the owner of the vineyard returned many times. But each time someone was left behind. Someone remained at the square almost the whole day dreading the long walk home having to face his starving family. In the end, however, all were hired, all were paid, and were able to feed their starving families.
The key to this parable lies in this question.Who had the better day?