Thursday, January 29, 2009

Workplace resentments (Mat. 20)

It's hard to fill out a standard job application when you have a work history as interesting as mine. You're pursuing some gigantic project to change the world, but need a little cash in hand from time to time. So, you hang around on a street corner where contractors can pick up day laborers who get paid in cash at the end of each day. Or, for the more middle-class person, you go to ManPower.[1] Show up wearing coveralls, and that costume might get you a three-week gig at a cinderblock factory. You pick up fresh blocks from a conveyor belt, and stack them neatly on pallets. It's those skinny four-inch wide blocks that take the most out of you, since you grab and stack them two at a time.

Day laborers frequently have addiction problems. Hire a few to help you unload a truck, and you can smell the wine oozing out of their pores after a few hours. They are typically lower-class, socially and economically. During the Reagan Recession of the early 80s, I counted myself fortunate to land a job with a predominantly black work crew, cleaning and baling plastics and fabrics for recycling. A place to go, something to do, and someone to pay me for it -- and life suddenly looked significantly brighter. I learned about "mother's day," that glad event once a month when federal checks flood the hood to temporarily enrich the unwed mothers and any boyfriends who could latch onto that gravy train.

Still, the guy who paid me $5 / hour, cash, gave me a foothold when I desperately needed it. A few years later, when he came by the software vendor where I worked, I had the chance to thank him.

I don't think I'd be a good union man. The guy who provides me with work, tools, and a workplace, is my benefactor, not my enemy.

Still, day laborers are acutely aware of every hour that they work.

Mat. 20 begins with a disturbing little parable about some day laborers. The vineyard owner goes out first thing in the morning, and hires a batch to work his vineyard. He goes out a few hours later, and hires some more. Goes out at noon, finds the latest crop of guys shaking off their hangovers, and puts them to work. Rinse and repeat.

At the end of the day, he pays the folks who worked a single hour a full day's wages. The same as everyone else. Of course, this does not sit well with the people who've endured the weight and heat of the entire day. Well, tough. After all, Jesus points out,
İşte böylece sonuncular birinci, birinciler de sonuncu olacak.
And, a few words:
  • bir -- one
  • son -- the first
  • sonuncular -- last
  • sonuncular -- the last
  • olacak -- will be
Well, actually, this is a word of hope for us late bloomers. Israel had spent a few thousand years, by that time, testifying to the One God, and smashing idols -- at least, when they weren't building fresh idols of their own. Now that the consummation of their pilgrimage was at hand, the torch was about to be handed to a batch of latecomers.

That hurts, folks. There was a time when I wanted to be a leader in our church. It never happened. Time after time, I'd see newcomers drop in from out of nowhere, suddenly acquire the recognition and honors I craved -- then casually discard opportunities I despeartely yearned for. It's like having a younger brother show up and displace you from the center of the universe!

On the other hand, though, every one of us benefits from the work of those who have gone before. As Sir Isaac Newton said, we see farther because we can stand on the shoulders of giants. God can indeed raise up new witnesses from unexpected places.

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