I got more than I bargained for when I asked my next-door-neighbor for help the other day.
We’re about to replace our deck…so that means ‘everything must go’ from its venerable (and now, vulnerable) surface – including a table and a propane BBQ grill that I knew were too heavy to transport single-handedly.
And that’s how I pitched the task to my neighbor: Could he maybe spare a couple of minutes, and some muscle, to help me move those two items?
He did that, and much more. He helped not only with the two-person fixtures…but with chairs and oversized flower pots and assorted other items, too – ultimately spending closer to 30 minutes as my unpaid laborer than the five minutes I had originally envisioned. All in the heat of a day that set a record high for this late in September in our fair city.
I’m certainly grateful for the help. But beyond that, I’m intrigued by how his gesture paralleled the scene in this Sunday’s gospel passage. We hear the ‘kingdom of heaven’ compared to the actions of a landowner ‘who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard’:
After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. Going out about nine o’clock, the landowner saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.’ So they went off. And he went out again around noon, and around three o’clock, and did likewise. Going out about five o’clock, the landowner found others standing around, and said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’
We know how the story plays out from there: The narrative shifts the focus to the wages that each set of laborers is paid. All are equal, in the landowner’s estimation – a detail that helps underscore the point made in the first reading by the prophet Isaiah: ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.’
But here’s something new that I noticed about the parable, thanks in part to my neighbor’s generosity: How utterly focused the landowner is on the harvest. Completing the job – that’s what seems to matter to him most. It’s so significant, in fact, that he keeps rounding up laborers…long past the time in the day when it makes economic sense to do so.
Each laborer is important to that process, to be sure. But on some level, it’s really about all the laborers. The deck won’t be cleared, the harvest won’t be completed, the kingdom won’t be built…unless we all roll up our sleeves and pitch in.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.