(Sunday Homily) Jesus’ Surprising Position on Minimum Wage: $58.00 an Hour!

Minimum Wage

Readings for 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time: IS 55: 6-9; PS 145: 2-3, 8-9; 17-18; PHIL 1: 20c-24, 27A; MT 20: 1-16A.

What will the Kingdom of Heaven be like for minimum wage workers? Ask the poor people Jesus speaks to in today’s gospel. There the Great Teacher tells them a story about a character every employee – all of us, I’m sure – encounters at some point in her or his life. He’s the skinflint boss who imagines himself a great humanitarian, despises his workers as lazy, and treats them with complete arbitrariness. He takes great delight in disappointing them – simply because he can.

The familiarity of this comic book character must have set Jesus’ audience laughing. And it probably started a long animated conversation about bosses, wages and employment.

Anyway, the story goes like this . . . It’s late in the harvest season and this big fat landowner goes to the town square to hire fruit pickers who are shaping up there. (You can imagine him coming by in his pick-up truck, smoking his cigar, pointing at the strongest workers, and shouting, “Hey, you guys, get off your lazy duffs and jump in the back. I haven’t got all day. There’s work to be done!”)

In the story, you can tell the owner’s a cheapskate because he’s careful to hire just the minimum number of workers he thinks can get the job done – if he pushes them really hard.

But he miscalculates. So he has to return at noon for more pickers. But instead of blaming his own stupidity, he blames the workers. He calls them “lazy” for “standing around idle.” He shouts at them, “Get in the truck, you lazy no-goods! You should be working!” (What does he expect? They’re waiting for someone to hire them, for God’s sake! But then coupon-clippers, like the boss in the story, always despise calloused hands.)

Now it’s almost quitting time. With only an hour’s daylight left, and with his fruit ready to rot in the fields, the skinflint owner finds himself back in the square hiring more workers. Again, he blames them for being lazy. But off they go to finish the day’s work.

Then the punch line comes. The completely capricious landowner suddenly decides to play the generous humanitarian. So with great flair he gives a full day’s wage to those last hired – my guess is: just a few workers.

Naturally, the other pickers rub their hands together, drooling with expectation that they’ll be paid more generously too. But of course old Scrooge disappoints them. (These kinds of bosses always do! They love it.) He decides instead to turn legalistic and teach these lazy good-for-nothings a lesson – about power.

“What do you mean: ‘MORE?’” he shouts like the beadle in Oliver Twist. “Have you forgotten our contract? And besides, I’m the boss. I can do what I want, and you can’t do a thing about it!”

By this time, Jesus’ audience surely had stopped laughing. They were probably grumbling and rehearsing their own similar experiences with cheap legalistic bosses who love to play the generous philanthropist.

But then Jesus gets everyone smiling again by adding with a wink: “And so it will be when the revolution comes (or as he put it – “in the Kingdom of God”) where “the first will be last and the last will be first – you know what I mean?” He winks again.

It takes a while for the message to sink in. Not everyone “gets it.” The audience scratches its collective head. Finally the penny drops.

“Oh, I see what you’re saying, Jesus,” someone says. She looks around at the others. “Don’t you get it?” she asks. “All of the workers in the story are ‘the last;’ it’s the boss who’s ‘first’.” In the final judgment, Uncle Scrooge will be last and all of us will be first!”

The audience starts to cop on.

“Yeah,” someone else says doing a quick calculation. “And do you know what that means for us, doncha?”

“What?”

“It means we’ll all be on Easy Street; that’s what it means. Think about it; in the Kingdom, workers will be paid as much for working one hour as we now do working all day. We’ll all be making a hundred grand a year!”

Everyone laughs.

“No, I mean it. Do the math: minimum wage is (equivalent to) $7.25 an hour, right? That means that those guys who worked only one hour earned $58. That’s $464 dollars a day, if they had worked all day – or $2320 per week, or $9280 per month, or $111,360 per year! Now that’s a just wage for bustin’ our butts. Whaddaya think? Talk about a workers’ paradise!”

By this time, everyone’s laughing so hard, they’re in tears.

Hmm . . . Kingdom economics. Kingdom pay for minimum wage workers: $58.00 an hour. . . . First/last; last/first . . . .

“Devout Catholic,” Paul Ryan, along with other “Christian” skinflints in Congress should take note this Sunday!

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Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 40 years. Three grown children. Four grandchildren.

4 thoughts on “(Sunday Homily) Jesus’ Surprising Position on Minimum Wage: $58.00 an Hour!”

  1. In my Utopia (Kingdom of God, who is unconditional Love) everyone is paid the same wage, no matter what work they do, or whether they do any work at all. Just being born into that society entitles you to share equally in the fruits of the Earth and the collective work and technology that exist at the time of your birth.

    You might imagine that many would choose not to do any productive work for society, under those circumstances. But remember this is a society based in Love, and the meaning of work is transformed in such a world – it becomes a much treasured opportunity for individuals to show their Love for others, and spend much of their time enjoying this voluntary service.

    Our incomprehension about a Loved based world shows how deeply we are conditioned by the expectations of a world such as we all grew up in, which is definitely not founded in unconditional Love. On the contrary, in this world everything has a price, and if you cannot compete for the little green tickets needed, you may end up sleeping in the streets. Indeed, acquiring and hoarding those tickets has become the meaning of life for the enslaved denizens of today’s world.

    For me, the parable of the workers in the vineyard is a metaphor of God’s equal Love for all Beings, regardless of their actions. She is the Sun which shines on the wicked and the just equally. No one has to earn Her Favor, which is Unconditional Love.

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    1. Mike your thoughtful comment makes me think that you’d enjoy Rob Kall’s interview with George Monbiot. I just read it tonight on OpEdNews: https://www.opednews.com/Podcast/George-Monbiot-Discusses-C-by-Rob-Kall-Character-And-Values_Commons-The-Public_Neoliberalism_Political-Values-171015-836.html Monbiot argues that human beings are incredibly altruistic, and that the political right has worked overtime for the last 70 years to convince us all of the opposite.

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  2. I guess another way to put it is that the parable is an anti capitalist lesson about God’s love for all of us, not just those who have worked or connived to acquire monetary “value”. The gift of his Love for us does not need to be earned, and is not measured out to us according to our efforts. The lesson is, go and do likewise, do not measure your Love according to some judgements of yours, but give it to all freely – even the Donald Trumps of this world! He probably needs our Love more than most. Even if you think of him as an enemy (don’t!) still give freely of your Love to him. Of course that does not mean endorsing his behaviors, or refraining from doing all we can to prevent him from all the harms he is causing. But all of that does not mean that we have to hate him, or deny him a place in our Love.

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  3. After all, Donald Trump is in some ways simply our culture writ large. But we do not have to hate our culture in order to be sharply critical of it. Indeed, Love requires us to be critical of American Culture – because of our Love for it.

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