A few days ago, as I was driving, I encountered a familiar scene. At a particular intersection early in the morning stood a large group of men, largely from south of the border. They, like so many at other intersections across America, were standing hoping to be picked up for a day of work. A few hours passed and I drove past the intersection again to head home. This time, however, there were only four men standing at the same place where three hours earlier stood several dozen. Presumably, they were hoping to get at least a few hours of work in for the day.
As I drove by, I immediately thought of the parable of the day laborers in Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 20. Here Jesus tells a story about a business owner who went out one morning to hire laborers for the day. The man did so early one morning. However, the business owner continued to hire men to work throughout the day who were standing in the marketplace.
At the end of the day, the men who were hired at 5 in the afternoon were paid first. The business owner paid the men a full day’s wage. Immediately the men who started working early in the morning got excited, believing that if the fellows who only worked an hour or so got paid so well, they would be paid much more than a day’s wage. The business owner, however, much to the frustration of many, paid every worker the exact same amount regardless of the time worked.
This story, which on the surface does not appear to be fair, is used by Jesus to illustrate what the Kingdom of God looks like. The Kingdom of God is something Jesus taught as being present here and now, although not fully realized. Said another way, Jesus teaches us that if God had God’s way, things would look quite differently than they do now.
As human beings, we see other people through the lens of differences, what is fair, categories, stereotypes, socio-economics, gender, and what is deserved, etc. Like the day laborers, however, God sees each human being through one lens, the lens of love and forgiveness. We are all the same in God’s eyes and Jesus reminds us in this parable that this is the way we too need to look at people.
For those of us who realize our own imperfections, the message of God’s grace is great news indeed. We need not earn God’s love, rather God invites us to live each day in response to the fact that God’s standard has nothing to do with what is fair, but what is loving. We are all loved, period. And Jesus reminds us to keep this front and center when we encounter people on any intersection, not just those on street corners.