The Lord is gracious and full of compassion,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
When I am invited to visit a congregation, I first check the readings for that Sunday. On occasions such as anniversaries, the selected readings are usually not the assigned lectionary texts. Therefore, I am not preaching on the Gospel lesson for this coming Sunday, September 24, on the parable of the day laborers waiting to be hired. But oh, would I love to!
There are a myriad of commentaries on this reading, so I will try to avoid repeating what others have already written with the advantage of far more scholarly research. What I want to offer are a few random thoughts on the images this reading calls up in my mind.
Immediately, what leaps to the forefront is the sight of men waiting on a corner somewhere in the world, for work that will help support them and their family for that day. There has always been a need for temporary labor everywhere, so these scenes are not unique to our nation.
What is also common in most countries is that the bulk of these day laborers are foreigners. When I was in South Africa in 2016, I was told the bulk of the men I saw waiting on street corners were from Zimbabwe. Foreign-born workers, especially from Mexico and Central America, are currently the core of the low-wage workforce in southern California (see photo), as well as other parts of the United States.
Our ELCA Social Policy Resolution, Toward Compassionate, Just, and Wise Immigration Reform (2009), commits our church to protect the rights of people at work. It goes on to state that: “New legislation should facilitate an orderly, regulated future flow of workers, consistent with America’s labor needs and obligations, to contribute to the global common good.”
Of course, those type of commitments require legislation which our representatives in Washington seem to lack the will to propose.
At the risk of generalizing, the people one sees on a street corner are mainly male, young, and low skilled. What is also to be expected is that they will earn low and uncertain levels of income and work under less than ideal conditions. They are also vulnerable to theft of wages, employer abuse, and lack of insurance in the case of a work-related accident or injury. Since many lack documentation, their work sites are also targets of aggressive immigration enforcement.
In recent years, there has been an increase in efforts by labor unions, and community action groups and agencies to organize these workers so that they will not lack these benefits. However, there still exists a level of distrust of these organizations, no matter how reputable they may be. So, the day laborer on the corner is not bound to go away anytime soon. The fear of taking jobs from people who need them is overstated.
Yet those of us with a steady job and a suitable income tend to look down on such persons. Our reaction is either one of resentment or silence.
The resentment stems mostly from the fact that they are foreign-born, primarily, Latino. The last Presidential election campaign gave rise to an anti-immigrant rhetoric that has had the intended results – the Muslim ban, the vandalism of synagogues, the repeal of DACA, among others.
Is it possible that questions raised about immigrant issues have a deeper source than we are willing to admit—not our needs, but our wants and desires?
The Gospel reading asks us to search our hearts for our inner motivations. Note the words with which our story begins. Jesus said, “For the kingdom of heaven is like…”
When Jesus speaks of God’s kingdom, he’s not talking about some geographical faraway place beyond the here and now, but rather, about life lived under the reign of God – a God who is generous to a fault, a God whose generosity offends us and baffles us; a God who is inclined to show special generosity to the poor and outcast; a God who makes the so-called “respectable” people to become anxious and nervous.
So, if I were preaching on Matthew’s Gospel this week, this is what I would be wrestling with.
This week and always, may we be empowered by the Spirit of God’s love, that we may be willing to speak for what is right, act for what is just, and seek the healing of all of God’s creation
+Bishop Abraham Allende