In the Gospel we heard proclaimed this past Sunday, Jesus rebuked Peter for thinking “not as God does” but as human beings think. In a couple of weeks, we will hear the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Mt. 20:1-16), another Gospel that will underscore the difference between God’s thinking and human thinking.
In the parable, Jesus tells the story of the vineyard owner hiring workers at various points throughout the day, and then at the end of the day paying all the workers the same. Each worker received “the usual daily wage” regardless of how long each had worked. For many years that passage offended my American work ethic, my sense of fairness, just as it offended those workers in the parable who had worked all day. They expected to be paid more because they worked longer and harder than others, but they also received the “usual daily wage”.
Jesus was trying to teach the disciples, and us, that God treats us all equally, that the Kingdom of heaven is equally available to all whether they were descendants of Abraham or they were Gentiles, regardless if they believed their whole life or they came to belief late in life.
But there is another aspect to the story that is appropriate to consider this Labor Day weekend, and that is the payment of the “usual daily wage”. The vineyard owner had compassion for those unable to find work and wanted them to have enough to support their family for that day. The owner did not judge them as lazy because they were unemployed for part or most of the day. He did not pity them, give them a handout and leave them standing on the street corner. He gave them the opportunity to earn their “daily bread” regardless of their circumstances, because the owner recognized there is dignity in labor.
Expounding on the theme of the dignity of work, Pope Francis said: “We do not get dignity from power or money or culture. We get dignity from work. . . Work is fundamental to the dignity of the person. Work, to use an image, ‘anoints’ with dignity, fills us with dignity, makes us similar to God who has worked and still works, who always acts.”
Today, there are many people in our nation and in our world who are unable to find work. There are many more people in our nation and in our world whose work does not pay enough to support themselves and their families. On this Labor Day, in addition to praying for the unemployed, underemployed and the working poor, let’s reflect on what we do to recognize and uphold the dignity of all workers. Do we treat store clerks, restaurant workers, farm hands, telemarketers and other workers we encounter in the workplace and marketplace with respect? Do we see the unemployed, the underemployed and the working poor as our brother or sister, as our equal? Can we try to think more as God thinks, and less like human beings do, and see the dignity in each person rather than judging them based on power or money or culture?
– Marge Lindell