Tuesday, August 16, 2016

BARGAINERS AND BEGGARS


Homily for August 17th, 2015: Mathew 20:1-16.

          It seems terribly unfair, doesn’t it? To understand the story we must know that it is not about social justice. It is about God’s generosity. Here’s how it might go today. A rancher in one of the “salad factories” of California’s San Fernando valley is eager to harvest his crop before a threatened change in the weather. So at dawn he’s off to the hiring hall in town. The men he finds there bargain about the conditions of work, and their wages.

          At intervals during the day, the foreman tells the rancher that more workers will be needed to get in the whole harvest in time. So the rancher makes repeated trips to town to hire more help. Each time the workers he encounters are less promising. The men he finds lounging around in mid-afternoon are the dregs of the local labor market: drifters, panhandlers, winos. There is no bargaining with men like that. “Get into the truck, fellows,” he says. “There’s work for you out at my place.”

          At quitting time, those hired last are first in the pay line. The first man rips open his pay envelope — and can’t believe his eyes. It contains a whole day’s pay! Meanwhile, news of what the first men in line are receiving is being passed back to those in the rear. They calculate how much they will receive at the same hourly rate. Imagine their indignation when they receive exactly what they had bargained for in the early morning.

          We are left with the injustice. The story begins to make sense only when we ask: who was happy? who was disappointed? and why? Those who were happy were the men hired last. They had not bargained. They were little better than beggars. It was these beggars, however, who went away happy, while the bargainers were unhappy.

          What are you, with God -- a bargainer, or a beggar? If you want to experience God’s justice, be a bargainer. He’ll never short-change you. When you discover, however, how little you deserve on any strict accounting, you’ll probably be disappointed, perhaps even shocked.

          So perhaps you’d rather experience God’s generosity. Then learn to be, before God, a beggar. Then you will be bowled over with the Lord’s generosity. Ask the Lord who bestows his gifts not according to our deserving but according to his boundless generosity to give you that hunger which longs to be fed; that emptiness which yearns to be filled. Stand beneath his cross and say, in the words of the old evangelical hymn:

          Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to your cross I cling.