- Published: 13 May 2020
As we know, given a choice between Netflix and conversation after a meal, Jesus opted for conversation. Mind you, conversations with Jesus were not hazardous free. In addition, to being teacher and healer, Jesus was willing to dabble as an economist.
Truth be told, Jesus talked about money a lot. Why? Over the course of his life, Jesus had observed some rather strange human behaviour, the strange yet obvious economic inequity where some reveled in over-abundance while others struggled to eat, struggled daily bread. This inequity is not normal, it is strange and Jesus was interested in returning the world into a home for God’s kin-dom.
Jesus peppered conversations with stories to provoke listeners to imagine possibilities, like the story of landowner, a person of wealth who went out to hire workers to harvest the grapes. These workers were essential. Wage negotiations were terse, a day’s wage for a day’s work. No conversation about benefits and pension contributions for these essential workers.
In the story Jesus weaves, the landowner returns to the market square where word had circulated that work was available, and the landowner, who seems to have all the power, keeps hiring more workers throughout the day, even hiring workers in the late afternoon.
Now, before finishing the story, I pause to ensure we hear one reason why Jesus told the story. This story illuminates with clarity, a world where there is an imbalance of power and wealth. A single landowner hires crew after crew, hires one day at a time. The picture is obvious. The one will have on-going benefit, the many have transitory benefit eking out enough to have daily bread for a day. Jesus told this story so we could see how strange that is.
The story of COVID-19 that is unfolding before us is reminding us how strange things are. One only need witness food riots breaking out in parts of the world after only a few days of physical distancing because in those lands there is no personal storehouse.
Even in our land of abundance, the imbalances that exist have been made stark. Our world is not yet a home for God’s kin-dom and the stories Jesus told illuminate that painful truth. In Canada, we are fortunate that political movements in the early 20th century were inspired by a vision of God’s kin-dom and this vision impacted our social structures such that we are better off than many in our world. Equally, we are aware that in recent years, economic inequity has been growing and not decreasing, backward steps made glaringly evident in recent days.
Jesus told stories in order to imagine a world that could return to being a home for God’s kin-dom, a kin-dom where imbalance is not normalized but viewed to be strange.
Jesus awakens the spirit energy required to tackle the arduous task of creating a home for God’s kin-dom through the ending of the story.
Jesus weaves a tale where the landowner chooses to pay all the workers an equal amount regardless of the number of hours worked. Remember the wage was not some stock dividend but sweat labour to feed the family for the day. The earliest workers protest, but the landowner notes that there is no unfairness since they still received what they agreed to.
When dialoguing with Marti Settle and Danielle Rolfe in preparation for this service, I was glad to receive their wisdom, after all Jesus told stories to start conversations, to unleash imagination, to dialogue about lived experiences. My comments reflect their insights.
In this story the all day workers are representative of the in-between. They were not the powerful and wealthy nor are they the ones dependent on the charity of the landowner. The story focuses on their response, and they are invited to delight, not about the landowner's charity but rather celebrate that everyone got their basic needs met regardless. Everyone deserves enough to live, regardless of how much they "produce", regardless of the different categories of people in this world who have differening obligations, abilities, or needs. This is the vision of the kin-dom of God, and the in-between were invited to celebrate this vision.
For many of us, we are the in-between and the story of COVID-19 unfolding before us is painting a vivid picture.
As Danielle writes. It is true that this virus does not discriminate, but as we’ve seen, it reveals the layers of discrimination, neglect and disregard for human life that exist in our society. Those who die are more likely to have faced discrimination. The real invitation to those of us living in the in-between is a real understanding for the challenges faced by those living in poverty, those who are discriminated every day, those who lived limits to their freedoms and benefits before a pandemic world? In pandemic, it is easy to accept a world of government "bailouts" where no one is shamed. I wonder, is it possible, to transform this shared suffering into lasting empathy.
And what of the working poor. As Marti notes, I'be been shaken by Revenu du Quebec ads celebrating giving an extra $100 for essential workers making $28,600 per year or less. The acceptance of the fact that essential workers earn less than a living wage is unconscionable.
Jesus told stories to illuminate the unconscionable.
Jesus focused on the in-between because of the power they can unleash. In the story, they were invited to move beyond their complaint about personal fairness to social justice. This is the illumination of the Bible story, and this is the illumination of COVID-19, illuminations that unleash spirit energies for change. The Winnipeg strike of 1919, a strike that changed the landscape of Canada, happened after a pandemic.
So the invitation is to unleash our spirit energy in two ways.
First, we live a consciousness that is grateful for the blessing we live in this land as well as taking time to be honest with our own pains and struggles. Our pains and struggle cannot be ignored, because that is what nurtures empathy for the pains and struggles of another. Equally, we allow ourselves to be grounded in a spirit that reminds us of the original goodness and blessings, the abundance of creation and God that is intended for all to celebrate and share.
Second, we are called to see what the kin-dom of God is like, and imagine the ways we can make our world a home for God’s kin-dom. To have eyes, ears, and hearts that are open, that are willing, that will not despair but stand on the shoulders of our ancestors in the faith.
This is the spirit energy embodied in the prayer sung by Holly Near. May we make this song our prayer.
I am open and I am willing
To be hopeless would seem so strange
It dishonors those who go before us
So lift me up to the light of change
There is hurting in my family
There is sorrow in my town
There is panic in the nation
There is wailing the whole world round
May the children see more clearly
May the elders be more wise
May the winds of change caress us
Even though it burns our eyes
Give me a mighty oak to hold my confusion
Give me a desert to hold my fears
Give me a sunset to hold my wonder
Give me an ocean to hold my tears