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Work and workers

February 6, 2012

At church yesterday, we read the story about how heaven is like a man who keeps hiring people all day, and then pays them all the same wages regardless of how long they have worked for him. It’s an often quoted story. Most of the time, the point made afterwards in the sermon is that it doesn’t matter how late in life you turn to God, we will all inherit the same bliss in heaven, and look, the last ones even get to go first! Sometimes, the pastor chooses to focus on the disgruntled workers who got hired early in the morning, the ones who rightly complain that it isn’t fair to pay the same wages for one hour of work as for twelve hours, and the landowner (equally rightly) points out that they got the wages they deserve and had agreed upon, and it’s none of their business if he chooses to give the others more than they deserve. Such a focus turns it into an anti-jealousy story. Our pastor, for whatever reason, held a sermon on how not everybody gets to go to heaven, a topic I’m very much NOT comfortable with.

The part of the story that struck me as important yesterday is not a verse that I have ever heard or read a sermon about. It’s a minor detail, usually skipped over.

6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

7 ‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

That question – ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ – gets asked nowadays too. I shouldn’t complain too loudly, because I don’t get to hear it all that often, and so far I haven’t had it asked to my face. But I hear it anyway, oh yes I do. I read it between the lines in newspaper articles. I hear it as a subtext in political speeches. I see it blatantly out in the open in the American political debate (I shouldn’t be reading so many blogs from the US, but they are just too good to unfollow). Hey, you! Unemployed people! Why do you stand around all day doing nothing? Don’t you know that you’re living on tax money? Don’t you know that you’re quite a burden on society? How can you be so lazy? Why won’t you contribute?

Dude, we’re not slacking around. We’re standing in the market place. We’re doing everything we can to find a job. But no one has hired us.

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