Rhiannon tackled this topic last week, but what I wanted to say is an addition not a duplication so I’m going ahead anyway.
The parable of the vineyard workers (Matthew 20:1-16) has been much in my mind this year. Early in the year everyone in our meeting was struggling somewhat with a regular attender who is persistently late and tends to arrive noisily. We know that he has mental health problems and over a long period we had, mostly, come to accept him. It still came as a revelation to me when I realised that this was one meaning of the parable that in the Kingdom of Heaven everyone is valued equally, however late they arrive for meeting, So, if I believe, as I say I do, in the Kingdom being here and now, I am called upon to love the latecomer equally with the rest of my meeting. ‘Thus the last will be first, and the first, last.’ (Matthew 20:16)
Interestingly, when this persistent latecomer was absent for a couple of weeks he was much missed, and everyone was asking after him. There was no response to phone calls and eventually we found out that he had been admitted to hospital. We plan to visit when his social worker says that he is well enough to cope with visitors (his family are not in contact with him).
More recently I was reading ‘God’s Hotel’ by David Wood (a collection of articles previously published in ‘Egremont Today’ as a column titled ‘Godspot’). David’s column for September 1998 included a retelling of this parable, placed in a Cumbria that some of his readers would have heard of from their parents or grandparents. He observes that “Those who had been left hanging around all day were those nobody wanted – the sickly, the disabled, the weaklings, those with learning difficulties – the ‘poor’ specimens’. Always the strong, the vigorous, the well-favoured, would get chosen first. Real community is a bit of heaven, where no-one is excluded, where all are equally favoured and a place is found for them with all the others. Their place. Their unique and equal place.”
I’d not actually thought about who these late-comers to the vineyard were, this opened my eyes again. It has implications for our meetings, and for wider society. To bring the Kingdom of Heaven into its full glory here and now we need to value everyone equally. We need to do this individually, in our churches, mosques, meetings, schools, workplaces, hospitals, neighbourhoods, countries and all over the world. We can start locally, but also need to influence the government – ‘the sickly, the disabled, the weaklings, those with learning difficulties’ need enough money to live on as much as ‘the strong, the vigorous, the well-favoured’ do, surely a statement that we need a minimum wage for all, that is, a minimum allowance per day (something like a citizen’s income but for everyone) rather than a minimum payment per hour. We need to turn our ways of organising society upside-down if the Kingdom is to be realised in truth.
If you recognise Karl Marx ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his need’ (German: Jeder nach seinen Fähigkeiten, jedem nach seinen Bedürfnissen!) in this, that’s fine by me – my spouse was just saying last night that Marx should be considered to stand in the line of the old testament prophets.