Sunday, September 24, 2023

Sunday Thoughts

Today's Gospel reading at church was of the land owner who went to the center of town to hire day-laborers for his vineyard. He went back several times over the course of the day and kept hiring whoever was available. At the end of the day, he paid each laborer a full-days wages regardless of whether they had worked one hour or ten.

My belief is that most of Jesus's parables referenced some recent, local event. They were not academic exercises but were very immediate and concrete to the people who first heard them.

It is not just possible but perhaps likely that the event very similar to the one the outlines in the parable had just happened locally. If that were so, then let me sketch out how the locals heard Jesus's message.

The only time in the annual cycle of caring for a vineyard where large numbers of day-laborers would be hired would be for the harvest. 2000 years ago people making wine did not have access to cane sugar or chemicals to control acid levels. Nor did they have fungicides.

Grapes, when they are ripe, have between 20% and 26% sugar. Due to osmosis, the will suck in rain and split (explode) if wetted. If they split, they will immediately start rotting. In the case of an imminent storm, it makes all kinds of economic sense to throw huge amounts of labor at getting the grapes picked and under a roof if a rainstorm threatens.

The traditional homily for this reading is that we can be saved in the 11th hour and if we die in a state-of-grace then we will still go to heaven.

Ironically, I think that is the exact opposite of how the people standing around Jesus heard the parable.

They would have heard this as a call to exercise every means possible to become "righteous" as the thunder-heads loom. It is likely that the owner of the vineyard did not get all of his crop under cover in time. The economics of humans is not the same as the economics of salvation.

I never attended a seminary or studied theology, but I have watched neighbors running wheat and baling hay into the wee-hours when lightning was flashing on the horizon.

Pack your own parachute. Make your own decisions.


  1. Interesting thought, ERJ. The classic sermon is much as you described: the fact that God (as the landlord) treats the last as He treats the first. I have admit that as I have grown older, that has not seemed completely right to me: absolutely there is the teaching that in the sense of salvation we are all on the same playing field, but it also seems to not recognize that the efforts are not equal - which, to be fair, the Bible also discusses that we will be rewarded for.

    Yours is an interesting take and I will ponder it, because classically the focus has always been on the laborers, not the landlord.

    1. The workers would also consume some of the wine at various times. Loss of the grape crop would materially decrease the quality of their lives.

      They still needed to be paid because they still had to buy food for their families but even the workers could see that not getting in the grapes would be a catastrophe.

    2. It is interesting that you point out the communal nature of the relationship - again, something that is not really touched on in almost everything I have read or heard as the Owner and the workers are considered two separate groups. Certainly not like Boaz in the book of Ruth, where he works in the field alongside the laborers.

  2. It seems to me that parables have a worldly meaning that must make sense to the people listening to Jesus tell the story, as you point out. It also must have a kingdom meaning for those who have "ears to hear."

  3. A priest I heard explain this Gospel was that God loves us so much, he is willing to reward those who become His sincere followers, no matter how long it took to come to their senses.