So this guy who owns a small winery goes out at the break of day in his pickup truck to find some day laborers. He goes over to Home Depot and picks up a few guys and takes them back to his vineyards. He offers them a fair wage, fifty dollars for the day, (if you can call less than minimum wage fair) and puts them to work picking grapes.
By nine AM, however, he sees he’s going to need more guys. “Damn Mexicans!” he thinks, and gets in the truck and heads on out again in search of more workers. He finds some guys, says he’ll pay them a fair wage, and brings them back to the vineyards and puts them to work with the other guys picking grapes. But after a few hours, he sees he’s still going to need more workers, so he goes out again at noon, and at three in the afternoon to find more workers. He puts them to work, just like the others.
On is way home from the market at five o'clock, he sees some other guys on the corner just hanging around.
“Hey! Que Pasa? What are you guys doing?”
“Nobody wanted us, boss!”
“Jump in. I can use you!”
So they jumped in the pick up truck and went to work in the guy’s vineyard.
At end of the day, when it was getting too dark to work, he called over his foreman. “Okay Frank, pay ‘em all. Give ‘em each fifty bucks for the day, starting with the last guys I just brought in.”
“Whatever you say, boss.”
Well, the ones that were hired first got a little pissed off, naturally. They went up to the grower to complain.
“Hey Cabrón! Por que nos estas fregando? These guys haven’t even been working an hour, and you’re paying them the same as us! We’ve been working all pinche day!
The growers said, “Now calm down there, Jose, or whatever your name is. You agreed to work for me all day for fifty bucks. You got your fifty bucks. I’m not cheating you. I can pay these guys whatever I want, or can’t I do what I want with my own money, huh? Now get the hell out of here before I call immigration!”
And so, the last shall be first, and the first shall be last. Jesus told this story to a bunch of people in Judea, just across Sea of Galilee, after a group of temple officials tried to trick him into saying something to incriminate himself by asking him about divorce. A rich young man had asked Jesus what he needed to do to have eternal life and Jesus told him to follow the laws. The young man said he had always followed the laws, so Jesus told him to give away all his money and stuff and to follow him. But the rich young guy had a lot of stuff and he didn’t want to be poor, so he just walked away. That’s when Jesus made that comment about rich people and the eye of the needle. He also said that many who were first would be last, and many who were last would be first. That’s when he told everybody this story… well, without the pickup truck and Mexicans and shit, but it’s basically the same story.
I’m sure this story must have puzzled the people listening to it. It sure puzzled me the first time I read, back when I was about sixteen or so. Man, I would be pissed too if I worked all day and some bozo that just showed up an hour ago got the same pay I got. That just didn’t seem fair. But it only seems unfair because we are looking at things from the point of view of the workers. Let’s look at things from the point of view of the grower.
He goes out and sees these guys who need work, so he hires them. And he gives them what they have earned, what they deserve. But then he goes out and sees some guys who didn’t get any work, through no fault of their own. There just wasn’t enough work to go around. Those guys needed the money too. They had families to feed. And the grower felt sorry for them, so he hired them. And just because they got hired at the end of the day didn’t mean they didn’t need just as much money as the other guys needed. That grower must have been doing pretty well, because he had no problem hiring people over and over during the day, giving them all the same amount of money, because they all had the same needs.
He didn’t blame them for not being hired earlier. He didn’t blame them for not getting a better education. It didn’t matter to him why they didn’t have jobs. He didn’t judge them. He only saw some guys who needed a job, so he gave them jobs.
God, or whatever you want to call God, takes care of all of us. Anybody with eyes can see that we all receive our own share of blessings and adversity, no matter what kind of people we are. That’s because we all have the same needs. It doesn’t matter whether you go to church every Sunday or not. God takes care of the Pope and Bill Maher. It has nothing to do with whether or not we deserve it. And trust me, there are lots of folks who, in my estimation, don’t deserve it. It’s good thing I’m not in charge of the universe.
Moreover, just what is it Jesus is trying to tell us in general? Throughout his entire ministry Jesus has said we need to change our way of thinking. God is not some big cop up in the sky that rewards our good deeds and punishes us for wickedness. God is the loving parent. God doesn’t want sacrifices and rituals. God wants love. God is love. Jesus wants his followers to understand that the divine dwells in each one of us. The only real happiness comes from understanding that and connecting with that divine spirit. And we connect with that divine spirit, we praise God, in every act of kindness, in every act of love, we do.
Now what is the value of that understanding? What sort of value do you place on enlightenment? If you spend your entire life learning to live in harmony with the Tao, or if you stumble upon nirvana in the fleeting of a second, just before you take that terminal breath, is there any difference in the understanding? What you receive, coming upon this divine connection at the end of your days, and what the person who finds this peace in his or her youth is the same, peace and understanding, love and faith.
Those religious leaders in first century Judea, and the good people who went to temple, all thought themselves better people than those folks with whom Jesus liked to pass his time teaching. There was a good reason Jesus liked to spend his time with the “sinners”. They were looking for something. The “good” people that went to temple and washed their cars every Sunday thought they had already found it. But what they found were rules to follow that placed themselves on top and everybody else on the bottom.
Moreover, Matthew was written for a mixed population of Jews, Jewish converts, and gentiles in Syria. In this congregation there were Christians that were converts from Judaism and also Christians who were gentiles, converts from so called pagan religions. And the Jewish Christians thought they were somehow better than the gentile Christians. They had followed all the laws of Torah for generations. They were the ones promised a messiah, after all. They had tried to insist that the pagans at least convert to Judaism before they become Christians, but the Council of Jerusalem, soon after the church began, put a stop to that. Pagans were welcomed right into the fold and were to be treated just as any other Christian would be treated, beaten, tortured, and executed. So this parable may have been added later by early church leaders to deal with this situation specifically.
So in other words, all you fuckers who think you’re better than everybody else because you’re so good and holy and all ought to just shut the fuck up! You don’t deserve shit! Yes, you’ve followed all the rules and everything and God thinks you're just swell. But God also loves that drug dealer out in South Central Los Angeles, too. Let’s face it. Would a loving parent give more food, buy better clothes, give better Christmas presents to the kid that did well in school and give shit to the other kid who was always getting bad grades and getting in trouble? Sorry Billy, you’re getting oatmeal for dinner, but your brother Alexander is having pizza. You should be more like him.
So Jesus may have actually told this parable, or not. It doesn’t really matter. It’s still true. I have no idea what heaven may be like, if it is a place as we think of places at all, but I do know that my little piece of it won’t be any more or less special than anybody else’s. And that’s because the kingdom of God, as Jesus says, dwells within me, and you, and each one of us. In the end, we are all God’s children, and we all get exactly what we need and deserve…the love of God.