A Provoking Tale

— Midweek Meditations:
thoughts, inspiration and encouragement
from ACF community members —

Once upon a time there was a girl. Being the oldest of four siblings she was very concerned about fairness and sticking to the rules. These character traits, together with her hot temper made for some feet-stomping, on-top-of her-voice-yelling and door slamming episodes when she was under the impression of being treated unjustly. She grew up in a white European Christian family and was familiar with many bible stories, including the parable of the generous landowner who pays his day labourers the exact same amount, no matter how long they had worked that day. Well, dear reader, you might be able to imagine how well that bible passage went down with our little girl. (You’re right: She could not stand this story!) And even though her faith evolved and grew over the years, she wasn’t able to make her peace with this particular narrative.

I assume you have already guessed that I was that girl. You know, all the interpretations of the parable never made sense to me. To me they seemed far-fetched and sounded like an attempt to gloss over some major issues. This attitude of mine changed all the sudden a few months ago whilst listening to a podcast on faith and social justice.* There the podcast guest was arguing that we all should make an effort to read scripture through the lens of the underprivileged, just as Jesus himself kept on spending his time and effort with and on the people on the margins of society. Asked to name an example, she introduced me (and I’m sure a whole lot of other white privileged listeners) to a new view on aspects of the parable from Matthew 20:1-16.

(…) At nine o’clock in the morning he (the landowner) was passing through the marketplace and saw some people standing around doing nothing. So he hired them, telling them he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day. So they went to work in the vineyard. At noon and again at three o’clock he did the same thing. At five o’clock that afternoon he was in town again and saw some more people standing around. He asked them, ‘Why haven’t you been working today?’ “They replied, ‘Because no one hired us.’

Matthew 20:3-7 NLT

Yes, this passage has the potential to ignite rage in its reader. But viewing these words “from the margin of society” changes everything. The anger will no longer be directed at the landowner, who distributes his money in an unorthodox way. No, one of the big questions rising up might be: “What kind of inhumane system are we living in that keeps certain people from earning a living wage by doing honest work with their own hands?”

What a perspective shift! I’m invited into countless new possible responses to this story: feeling humbled by me having always seen myself as the hard-working righteous labourer that was hired in the morning, being inspired into action by the way the landowner treats those left behind, questioning the paradigm through which I perceive the world and the bible, feeling motivated to become a more mature, loving and self-reflected woman.

After loathing this bible passage for so long, it has become a new friend, even a mentor to me. I want to grow through it in the years to come, to receive its gifts and be challenged by its details.

Let’s pray:
Jesus, some of your words in the gospels don’t resonate with me at all. Thank you for being patient with me and for sending your Spirit and wise sisters and brothers my way that keep on deepening my understanding. Please also help me to question my own view of the world and to grow in empathy and action.
Jesus, you spent your life on earth with the outcast and forgotten. Help me to follow your example and let your Spirit fill our society with your love and justice.

* I’d love to be able to provide you with the name of the podcast or of the person speaking those words that completely changed me, but unfortunately I’m not 100% sure who it was. It might have been Lisa Sharon Harper.

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