Pastor Devin Strong
Spirit of Peace Lutheran Church
Last week my wife and I were able to escape to Florida for a few days to help our young adult children celebrate their birthday Of course, I enjoyed my vacation. I do a better job taking it than I did in my younger days.
I used to leave a lot of my vacation days on the table because I thought that I was “too busy” to take much time away. These days—as I was saying to a church member recently—I don’t just enjoy vacation. I need it. But rest is most meaningful and appreciated when it is placed in a cycle of hard work.
Follow me through this slightly rough segue. A few weeks ago, I read an insightful book called Santa Biblia: The Bible Through Hispanic Eyes by Justo Gonzalez. The author helps the reader look at familiar scripture passages from the perspective of those on the margins, and one of his interpretations, in particular, caught my attention in relation to work and rest. It is Jesus’ parable of the unjust landowner from Matthew 20:1-17 who goes out and hires workers for his vineyard at various points in the day—some early in the morning, some at mid-morning, some at noon, and others in the late afternoon. The landowner agrees to pay the early-arrivals the “usual daily wage,” and when the time comes to settle up with the laborers, he lines them all up paying the late-arrivals first.
The landowner gives them the usual daily wage, so naturally, the folks who started working at sunup assume that they will receive more, but when these early folks also receive the usual daily wage, they grumble that the landowner is unfair!
Having served mostly middleclass congregations, I have preached several sermons about grace vs. fairness,trying to blunt the offensive sting of this parable, explaining how God is extremely generous to us all. The author Gonzales points out that today, many Hispanics identify with the late arrivals in the parable. Too many modern-day people of color know what it feels like to be involuntarily idle. Indeed, the workers in the story say that they wanted to work all day, but “no one has hired us.”
This perspective from the margins makes me think more deeply about the blessings of work. People that I know run around all day with work, kids, and volunteering. We exhaust ourselves, and we constantly say that we need to find a better work/life balance, but we never quite manage it.
This is not everyone’s story.
Lots of people, because of illness or disability, discrimination or inadequate skills are not able to work the way that they would like to. This has financial consequences, of course, but worklessness has emotional and spiritual consequences as well. In addition to a paycheck, meaningful work blesses you and me with the chance to participate in the world on our own merits. We get to use our skills and learn new things. We experience the joy of accomplishment, and, at the risk of sounding Pollyanna, we get to make the world a better place. Then when the job is done, you and I get to enjoy some well-deserved rest. Not everyone is so lucky. For some, rest becomes idleness and then painful feelings of being left out. I want to try to see the world through other people’s eyes.
I want to give thanks for my vacation and my work.