The post below assumes some things. First, that you know or have just clicked on and read the Bible passage this post is about. Second, that you already know, or are willing to pretend for a moment, that white fragility is a real thing that exists, and that it hurts all of us. Third, I will likely only tangentially mention this in my sermon on Sunday in a long list of ways we play out this story of Jesus in our lives. Fourth, if you want more information, or references for the things I say below, you know how to use Google because I only have so much time to put in hyperlinks.
In this parable, Jesus says some things that we don't want to hear. Things that we often don't want to know about the kin-dom of God. Things are too hard for us about God's dream for the world.
Because I read this passage, and I think, that's not fair! The person hired at 5:00pm got paid that same as those who started earlier. And then I know that makes me sound like a jerk, so I think a little bit more. Why wasn't that person hired? I know plenty of people who are of Color or LGBTQ or women who don't get hired (or called to churches) because of their appearance. Was it fair that those last workers were passed over to begin with? I also know that it is still true in our church that men of the same education and experience level earn more than women.
Also, don't those workers also have families to feed? Do I really think that people are valuable and deserve to make a fair living wage to support themselves and feed their families no matter how hard or how long they work? That's a dangerous question in our current economic system that rewards the ability to earn money, without regard for systems in place that make it easier for some to earn money than others.
We often spiritualize this passage. For some, this passage means that as long as someone repents on their death bed, asks for forgiveness, and confesses belief, they will get into heaven.
But what if Jesus used an example of economics because he wanted us to see God's dream for the world here and now? There are so many places to go with this, from the Dream Act, to Health Care, to a fair living wage of $15/hour.
What strikes me, though, is that this is where I'm at as a white person. Our consitution says that all men are created equal, yet we've never treated all people as equal. Maybe the Black Lives Matter protests are simply those workers who were promised a wage that they were excluded from all. day. long. Perhaps us white people are those grumbling. People are fighting for what they've been promised, and honestly, deserve as full human beings, and the other workers, us white people are grumbling about it. We think that it is somehow not fair that everyone gets what they agreed to work for.
We get fragile as white people. We think that creating a world where People of Color lived and are valued equally to us somehow means we've lost something. But have we really? Didn't the generous landowner give everyone what they agreed to at the end of the day?
All analogies fall down after awhile. Yes, I know there's a problem saying that People are Color are working at 5PM and less hard. But why is that a problem? And, especially if all lives, if everyone's ability to feed their family is all the same, can't we value all the workers equally? That's what the generous landowner did, anyway.
And in this parable, many people agree that the generous landowner is God, or at least how things are supposed to work in the kin-dom of God. Yes, we can never realize that fully in this life, on this earth. But if economic equality, paying what a person needs to feed their family, and not holding it against people who were prevented from the system is what God wants, there is a clear invitation to the church. We, as disciples of Christ, we as the Body of Christ, are invited to help make the world more like this parable.
And while that's threatening to us, just like it was to the workers who were hired earlier in the morning, then this parable clearly says what we need to do. Get over it, and let God's Dream for the world come closer, because we as the church are helping make it more of a reality.
If we think of white people as those who were hired early in the morning, there is incredible power in this parable to offer us a new way of living. One where we can see the system clearly, and work to change it. Not just for getting into heaven, but for life in the here and now.
1. What do you think?
2. What things have led you to feel fragile lately?
3. Can you follow a Jesus who says the kin-dom of God is to turn our economic system and the ways we value people upside down?
4. What is most threatening to you about this?
5. What is most hopeful?
These questions are also posted here, when you can also comment:
Pastor Jess, Author
Loves Jesus, Loves and Hates the Church at the Same Time, Calling Us to Honestly, ELCA Pastor
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This work is licensed by Rev. Jessica A. Harren under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.