The Corner of Delridge and Roxbury
When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, 'Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.'
September 18, 2020, Words By: Pat Thompson, Image By: Jesus Mafa
Whenever I read the parable of the landowner and the day laborers, my mind often drifts to the day labor center that used to be in my community at the corner of Delridge and Roxbury. I would drive by and see people, mostly men, waiting outside in the parking lot, rain or shine, for an opportunity to work.
My nephew once worked through a day labor company. He said it was a pretty hard gig. Sometimes, people would wait all day for work that didn’t come. Or, it would come for some but not others. Ironically, the people who needed work the most often had to wait in line the longest. Would-be employers often discriminated against them because of their age, or potential physical challenges, or maybe even a blemish on their background check. Day laborers didn’t just work hard on the job…they had to work hard just to get the job.
But when I’m honest with myself, at the end of the shift in this parable, when the landlord pays all the workers the same compensation regardless of their hours worked, it makes me feel a little uncomfortable.
The landowner essentially goes to his community’s Delridge and Roxbury four times that day. And on his last trip he asks the men who are there, “‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?”
They answer, “Because no one has hired us.”
To which he responds, “You also go and work in my vineyard.”
Does he do any due diligence on these men? Are they able to do the job? What about their background check? Is there a criminal record? Or maybe a challenge with their green card or other questions regarding their immigration status? Tell me, is there more to why no one has hired them? I think, at the very least, I would ask that before I took them back to my vineyard…much less before I paid them the same as the workers who had put in more hours.
At least, that’s how I feel when I read this story from a landowners point of view…from a landowners perspective of power.
But the strange thing about this parable is that it has the power to change which characters I identify with more than almost any other parable.
During one reading, I am the landowner. Later, I am a worker who was hired at 9, and later the worker who was employed at noon. And as I identify with different characters, I find that my questions shift. “What do I feel when someone gets paid as much as I do but I have been here all day?” Or, “What do I feel when I am paid as much as someone else but I haven’t been here all day?”
I can even identify with the bookkeeper for the vineyard, “Do I just chalk this up to the landowner’s proclivity for throwing a wrench into my day? Maybe I should look for a job with a boss who is more predictable.”
And what about the landowner’s family? I’m sure they ask, “Why does he do this? I have to live here, too! What kind of stir will this cause when I head into town? Will I have to listen to people question his motives while I am at the market? Why can’t he be a team player and do what the other landowners do?”
Of course, the land owner’s response is more than adequate, “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money?” Ahhh. Exhale.
I understand that this parable speaks to the ultimate who’s in and who’s out when it comes to the kingdom, as in, the “kingdom in the hereafter” kingdom. Latecomers to the cross are as welcome to God’s grace as those who have been following Jesus from day one. And that is indeed good news!!
But is it possible that it also speaks very tangibly to our daily lives right now, as in “the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” kingdom?
These are troublesome times. The unemployment rate in this country has soared and we can see that hope is diminishing in the eyes of our neighbors. In the midst of that, this parable makes me wonder, how might we take on the attitude, the ethic and the heart of this landowner?
Maybe he kept going back to “Delridge and Roxbury” because he saw his neighbors there and he knows what the kingdom is like. It’s like a vineyard where people who are feeling alone, desperate for work, and have waited all day to be seen, find their place, their purpose and their people.