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Choosing the Last

Choosing the Last…

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.”

The Spring Bible Study kicked off last week by reading one of the Bible’s most challenging parables:  The Laborers in the Vineyard.  It’s the story of how a landowner, much to the chagrin of the daily workers who arrived early in the morning, decides to pay those who arrived at 5 pm exactly the same daily wage as all the others.  When questioned by the exasperated early-birds who had toiled all day, the landowner says:  “I chose to give to this last the same as I give to you.”

Our first reaction to the story, which is one of many that Jesus told to reveal the character of God, is to be shocked by the inherent unfairness of paying late arrivals the same as the early birds.  True insight dawned, however, when someone said, “Well, maybe the late arrivals had to come by bus!” 

We laughed and all the possible reasons for lateness, including some of our own, came tumbling out:  “Maybe they had to drop the kids at day care!”  “Maybe their mother was ill and they had to take care of her.”  “Maybe someone died and they had to go to the funeral.”  “Maybe they were sick themselves.”  “Maybe they just didn’t know where to go or how to get there.”  “Maybe they didn’t speak the language!”

Then, and only then, we could marvel at the landowner’s kindness and generosity. And remember the times in our own lives when someone made the special effort to ensure that we received more than we were due, because it was exactly what we needed.

Jesus told this parable to his disciples to explain that God is more concerned about need than fairness.  And he told the parable in a manner in which they would understand as laborers themselves.  Since none of us are day laborers in ancient Palestine, we wondered how Jesus would tell the parable today.  What setting would he chose to shock and awaken us to the idea that our God choses to treat the last as the first?  Perhaps it would go something like this…

Once upon a time in a country that took great pride in its history as a nation of immigrants, the Government of the people proclaimed that all children, regardless of whether they were born inside the nation’s boundaries or not, would be citizens, entitled to work, pay taxes, vote, and serve as President or Vice-President, if they so choose.

Some would say:  that’s not a parable; it’s a dream!  More precisely, it is the dream of the Dreamers, children who were born abroad and brought here by their parents in their search for a better life.

As the mother of an immigrant, I share this dream.  I dream that someday my daughter, who was only 11 months old when she came to the US, would have all the privileges I have by the accident of my birth occurring in Portland, OR rather than in Chonqing, China.  I dream that all of the children here at Eden Church and in our community would be free – first, free to enroll in school and free to work without fear of deportation as provided under DACA but eventually free also to be a citizen like my daughter, free to vote, and even free to run for two highest offices in our land, which are currently closed to those born abroad. 

What makes this dream a parable, however, is that the Bible teaches us that what is a dream for me and for our immigrant children is not God’s dream at all but God’s chosen preference to make the last the same as the first. Regardless of when and how our children arrived in this country, God desires they be treated equally, with the same generosity and kindness as those who were born here.  As the parable concludes, the Landowner/God says to the early bird laborers who were the first to arrive: 

Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?  Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you.  Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?  Or are you envious because I am generous? So the last will be first and the first will be last.   – Matthew 20: 13-16

Spring Bible Study on the parables continues at 10 am and 7 pm on Feb 26, Mar 12 & 26, Apr 9 & 23, May 7 & 21.

-Pastor Pepper