According to Jesus in the Parable of the Workers, the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who goes out early in the morning to hire day laborers for his vineyard.
He goes out, hires some guys, and agrees to pay them each a denarius–the standard daily wage at the time. After a few hours, he goes out again, sees guys still hanging around the market who haven’t yet been hired for the day. He tells them to go to his vineyard, and he’ll pay them “whatever is right.” He went out a few hours later and did the same thing, and again a few hours after that. A final time, he goes out and asks the guys remaining why they’re still standing around. They tell him it’s because no one has hired them. They were there, ready to work, but no one gave them the opportunity to work. So, he tells them to go to his vineyard for the final hour of the workday, and says he’ll pay them what is right.
The end of the day comes, and starting with the last ones hired, the owner has his foreman pay the men. They each get a denarius, what he’d agreed upon with the first lot of workers for the day. They each get paid for a full day’s work, even the ones who only worked for an hour.
The guys who worked the whole day started grumbling. They worked through the heat of the day and bore the burden of the work!
The landowner says to them, “I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?”
Jesus concludes this parable, “So the first will be last, and the last will be first.”
The men were given not what they earned, but what they needed to live. They were paid a full day’s wage. A wage that was enough for them to meet their needs and the needs of their family. A living wage.
Maybe the guys who were picked first looked the strongest. I’ll venture to guess the guys hanging around until just before the end of the working day, maybe were the ones who looked a little frail, a little older, maybe a little sleepy. Maybe that’s why no one else picked them. Probably the strongest were picked first, and the weakest were picked last. Maybe they were sick. Maybe they had a wife or a child at home who was. Maybe they didn’t have enough to eat.
In any case, they were eager to work. They didn’t give up, call it a day, and go home at lunchtime to take a nap instead. They stayed at the market, lingering, in the hope that someone would hire them for at least the last hour of the day. They were probably desperate for any work, any income. They probably would have been so ashamed to come back to their families empty handed at the end of the day. But they did all they could, they went to where the work was, and waited. All day. They were finally picked, and I’m supposing would have accepted anything they received, even if it had been a pittance.
Yet they, the weaker ones, get paid first. Their needs get met first. The ones who worked all day still got exactly what they needed, what was agreed upon, what was enough to sustain them in the community. They had no right to complain.
Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is like this. A place where we all have the opportunity to work, and the opportunity to make enough. Even if we weren’t picked first because we’re not the strongest ones. Everyone gets what they need. Everyone has enough to be sustained. No one is starving in the community. No one is out of house and home because they weren’t picked first.
Based on this, the coming Kingdom seems (graciously) not like a capitalistic empire.
It seems like a place where everyone will have enough. All needs will be met, and the landowner is generous and fair. A place where envy doesn’t fly, where people aren’t penalized for not having the opportunity to be picked first, and the ones who work all day long, still are rewarded with exactly enough and what they need.
A place where the expectation is that even the strong will rejoice in the well-being of all, not just themselves. Where they recognize what is enough, and don’t require excess.
I believe everyone should have enough. (And I believe there is enough for everyone.) I believe Christians should live toward, give toward, advocate for, and vote toward a place where everyone has enough. Enough to eat, enough housing, enough clean air and water, enough doctors (and enough resources to pay for their medical treatment without going bankrupt or broke), enough education, enough stability, enough for their kids and aging parents, enough opportunity, enough for a life not constantly on the edge.
Enough can look different for different people. Enough for a woman with a disabled child may include help in her home, support for her child in school. Our families all have different needs. Enough doesn’t necessarily mean we all get the same, it means we get what we need to live and even to thrive.
What enough also entails, it taking just our share. Not our share and our neighbors too.
We live in a society where CEOs make as much in a few hours as minimum wage laborers make in a year. At present, a Wal-Mart minimum wage employee would have to work almost 1,400 hours to make what a CEO makes in one hour (that’s about 35 weeks working full-time). It would take the yearly income of 1,951 workers making the median total pay to pay Discovery Communications CEO for one year.
“Out of Reach found that the average hourly wage needed to rent a $1,006 two-bedroom unit in the United States is $19.35 — or $40,240 per year. That’s more than two and a half times the federal minimum wage, the report noted, and $4 over the estimated average wage of $15.16 that renters earn nationwide.” (Source.) It is entirely possible to work two jobs, six days a week, and still end up homeless.
This is not ok. This does not look anything like kingdom life. This is resource hoarding, the greatest acting as though they deserve to amass great wealth for themselves while the last work two jobs and can still barely afford a place to live.
This parable flips on its head the idea of what we think we deserve or own. I don’t think we can argue with God over deserving more than our neighbor, no many how many extra hours we worked, if they are lacking in opportunity or privilege.
The lucky ones who get picked first don’t get to complain over what comes with being picked first. Which is, work the day, and have enough. They don’t get to put down the ones who were picked last – the unlucky ones who had to wait perilously through the day waiting to see if they’d get to take any food home that night. Pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps is fine, but it’s not ok if we compare ourselves to our neighbors who don’t even have boots, or, as MLK said, if there is someone standing on their boots.
I believe God wants us to have enough, he wants wellness for us. He is destining a kingdom where it is so. Where the strong work and have enough, and where those who have less opportunity still have enough, and even get paid first. Even where the expectation is that we rejoice in everyone having enough, everyone having what they need, instead of getting angry with the father, and flaring our nostrils over what we think we deserve.
Doesn’t God have the right to do what he wills with what he created? We can’t be resentful that our father is generous, and no matter what we think about economics or politics, our worldview needs to be based around the gospel, around the kingdom Jesus’s recorded words teach us about constantly, and this kingdom is a place where the first are last, the last are first, and each person gets to work based on their abilities and opportunity, and all have enough.
How can we live toward this now?
A living wage for all is a good place to start.
But in our imaginings and in our efforts to join in the building of the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, what else could this look like? How else can we make the last first in our day-to-day? How can this mindset influence other thoughts and decisions we make?
How can we rejoice when the last have their needs met? How can we accustom ourselves to not grumbling over what we think is ours? How can we recognize when we are hoarding and how can we advocate for more generous living overall?
How can we vote, live, and advocate for a society where it is so?