Sunday Week 24 Year A Feast of Michael, Gabriel, & Raphael, Archangels

Sunday Week 25 Year A

Print Version September 19th, 1999

The reign of God is like an SAT examination: some worked night and day exhausting themselves in preparation; some paid thousands in coaching fees to learn the secret tricks; and some went out partying every night and guessed the answers. All got the same score.
The reign of God is like a soccer game: one side scored five goals, the other none. It was a draw.
The reign of God is like life: a woman works harder than a man but the man gets the promotion.
Emily Post, mistress of etiquette says there are three persons that can properly be recipients of a gift shower: “a bride-to-be, an expectant mother, and …” can you guess? … (a new clergyman)
What’s a man doing in the company of nubile and pregnant women?
While you’re at it wonder this too: Why are there no women in the parable of the vineyard? Why only men out there idling and working, owning and paying?
The parable of the vineyard is a set up—all parables are. It twists you into a contradiction. The reign of God is like this landowner… But exactly how is the reign of God like this landowner?
The story sets itself up to be all about work and payment, and the tricky questions of what’s fair, what’s just, and what’s generous? You listen and you assume pretty quickly that God is the landowner. But the storyteller, Jesus or Matthew, manipulates you into feeling that the landowner has done an injustice in the way he pays his workers. So you have to juggle two thoughts, innocent enough on their own but explosive when mixed: God is the landowner and the landowner is unfair. Parables don’t have answers. That’s why we need so many questions to do them justice. How can we take away the sting of the parable: easy take away the questions. We can go for either side of the contradiction. Either God isn’t fair or God isn’t the landowner. And I don’t know which way to go. So let me go both ways.
Why no women in the story? The place I found the tidbit about Emily Post was a book about Gift. The author reckons that there are two separate economies in which we live our lives: gift and property. Gifts exchanged are passed on, human bonds are made, communities built. Property is bought, and kept, and earned. It stands still. It divides rather than joining. Property comes from the hard work and the sweat of the brow. Gift is the fruit of labours of love. In the property economy a person has a fixed value according to what they have earned and anyone of equal property has equal value. In the gift economy a person gains in worth by what they give away to others. All the little labours of life which have to be offered freely and received gratefully at the hands of another. And as things stand in our society still women’s work is expected to be gift and men earn their manhood amongst property. Unless you are a clergyman. We strange beasts are not expected to earn property but to give and receive as gift. To charge for worship is to make it something else. So maybe God isn’t fair … Maybe God’s economy is one of gift and not property. Maybe this parable is telling us all that the workplace is no place for God. That the reign of God is not earned but given. That charity trumps justice in God’s game of life.
Maybe … But if you’ve ever played Monopoly with a Jesuit you have to wonder. And what about those missing women? What about injustice? Does God not care? Well maybe God isn’t the landowner in the story. Maybe we don’t have to do spiritual gymnastics to redefine fairness. But then exactly how is the reign of God like this story?
One thing I know is that all week I’ve avoided asking the one group of people who might have been able to give me an answer. I watched them the other day … went down to Fourth Street Berkeley and stood among the upscale stores with my Peet’s latte and watched the day-labourers standing idle on the corner waiting to be hired for the day. Living lives of such uncertainty that day to day … Well I don’t know what… I didn’t ask. I watched from a distance and didn’t make human contact. At least the landowner had the decency or the gall to meet face to face with those whose lives he toyed with while calling himself generous. But I watched. And the gap between me and them is the gap between my heart and the heart of the story.
Where is God in the story? I suspect God is labouring in the vineyard, from dawn ‘til dusk, breaking her back picking grapes, bearing the burden of the day and the scorching heat.
I suspect … but it’s only a suspicion… Until I answer the parable’s invitation and receive the gift held for me by the men on the corner I’ll never know.

Entry Filed under: Berkeley,Homilies


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