Sunday, June 28, 2009

Parable of the Laborers

We all know how it goes: A man hires laborers to work in his fields. Some all day, some for just an hour. At the setting of the sun, he pays them equally.

Whenever the sermon is preached, we are told we would react as did those who had worked the full day, and we know in our heart it is true. God’s ways are not our own, we are told. We are left with a sense of contempt for our nature, and the feeling we must strive to not feel cheated as those first workers felt. We must reject our natural way for God’s way. But God does not require the impossible. He builds into our very nature the help we will need. So I contemplate, when would I not begrudge my fellow workers. When would I rejoice in their good fortune rather than dwell on my own sense of loss. What has God sewn into the fabric of my nature that if I can access it, I can access Him .

I stretch out with my head resting on a bent arm. A slight breeze moves through the fields and dries my sweat drenched skin. Through the branches of an ancient olive tree, I see a solitary cloud stretched across an expanse of burning blue. An elegantly dressed man descends the marble steps of the manor. A hush falls over the laborers gathered in his court yard. His commanding presence tells all who did not know: This is the master.

A large jewel reflects the deep hues of the setting sun as he motions a group forward. It is those called at the eleventh hour. Among them is my father. He moves slowly bent with age. He leans on a stick found in the field. I rub my aching back pondering days stretching far into the past which he worked to feed our family without ere a complaint. I am pleased he has only worked an hour. The meager sum he will receive will help preserve his dignity with out much cost to his ailing body.

My heart leaps within my chest as I bolt upright. Could I have just heard what the master has said? He repeats his command in his calm, clear voice: “A full days wage.” The field beyond is drenched in the colors of autumn leaves as the sun creeps farther toward the horizon. Crickets begin their evening prayers as the master calls another group. It is those who were called at mid-day. My back yearns for bed and my stomach for bread, it has been a long cruel day.

The mass of bodies moves forward quickly encouraged by the Master’s previous generosity. I see my son. My heart is glad that he was able to find some work. He is a wonderful child, the joy of my life. His mother and I knew from very early on he was destined for more than our humble station. He longs to learn. Last year he began his studies to become a Rabbi. He wakes before the cock who has always been his faithful friend to make the long walk to his teacher. The old man is just and kind. He sees much goodness in my son and lets us pay him when we can. The child studies everyday and then rushes back to our village to find some way to earn a bit of money for our family. Many days he is unable to find work so late in the day. It saddens him, but he smiles when he kisses his mother hello. He spends the evening doing women’s work to let her rest her feet.

As the master’s voice calls out, “A full days wage, “ I hear grumbling from the crowd. My eyes scan the men receiving their pay. My boy catches my eye and runs to me with a gait only a child can have. Since his studies began, he has never earned a full days wages, not even the partial pay of a child. He jumps into my arms so pleased that his emotion flows even to the olive branches under which I stand.

“A full days pay, Daddy, a full man’s day. The master is kind, I will remember him in my prayers.” Tears fill my tired eyes. God has seen fit to give me this good boy. His grandfather hobbles to where we stand. He pats my son on the head and smiles proudly at me.

The master has called my group. Ours is the smallest group and is made up of those who have toiled all day. I move forward, anxious to return home with my father and son.

“A full days wage.” I gather my money and hurry away. I hear grumbling voices and the master reply, “Did we not agree on this as a fair sum?” I arrive at the olive tree and we three begin our walk home. With the pay of a younger man in his hand, my father walks with his head held high, barely using the crooked staff in his hand. My son’s feet are as light as his heart, and they barely touch the ground as he chases moths a few feet ahead.

“Oh, no!” I think to myself as I see fire in the distance float heavenward from my own hearth. “Oh, no, this far exceeds anything to which I have agreed."

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