All day long a landowner has been going into the marketplace to hire workers for his vineyard and now only one group remains. The landowner says to the workers, “Why are you standing here idle all day?” They respond with one of the most painful lines in all of scripture: “Because no one has hired us.” The text does not say why they were not hired.
One of the strengths of my Anabaptist tradition is that it takes the Bible and biblical authority seriously but also expects believers, particularly younger people, to argue and raise questions about the text. The parable of the shifty steward in Luke 16 was a delight to my friends and me in our coming-of-age years.
What is the point of pursuing wisdom? Well, to become wise. That is, wisdom is its own end, or its own reward. This sort of answer may suffice for philosophers (those who are “lovers of wisdom”), but James has other ideas. There are at least two respects in which James and other Christians might think differently about wisdom.
One of my friends once complained about the “unfairness” of her parents-in-law. Her husband was a first son who was competent in his work and conscientious in his care of his old parents. The point of discontent had to do with the parents’ favoring of the younger son, who was lazy and irresponsible, and who did nothing to deserve the extra favor bestowed on him. When my friend and her husband gave anything valuable to the parents, it inevitably ended up in the other son’s hands. While I was listening to my friend, I realized something that she did not understand. This was the parents’ way of loving.
In these days of Enron, Martha Stewart and wars waged over phantom weapons, we know better than to defend dishonesty. Then why would Jesus offer a parable lauding it? Upon closer inspection, however, this parable is just one in a long line of stories that Jesus tells about how to handle wealth.
“Start seeing the resurrection,” says Jesus, as he walks with the disciples to Jerusalem. He is teaching them about his death and resurrection, but they don’t understand. They are confused and reluctant to ask for clarification. Or maybe they are frightened into silence by the words betrayed and killed. Whatever the cause of their fear, they do not respond to Jesus when he describes the end of their journey.
When I was a kid growing up in the Willamette Valley, local teenagers and migrant laborers would go out together into the strawberry fields to help with the harvest. This parable, with its setting in the vineyard, describes the emotions of us workers—we wanted a fair wage for a fair day’s work.
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