Laborers in the vineyard

BY the time my brothers and I were old enough to read Jesus' parable of the laborers in the vineyard,1 we knew that if the Lord were hiring in our neighborhood, my father would sign us up for the early morning shift! There was no clear line between work and religion for my father. Cutting the lawn, raking leaves, running a paper route, doing schoolwork after dinner and on weekends, digging ditches as a summer job -- there was always work to be done. And not just because it was good for us. It was to be done for the glory and honor of God. We were taught that working hard would bless us.

Today I often give thanks that so staunch a work ethic was such an important lesson in our home. Such character as it developed has stood by me well in many of life's struggles. But I came to realize that I had also adopted a feeling of superiority over those who did not work, at least as my father defined work.

One of the earliest childhood memories I have is of walking down a city street and passing a disheveled vagrant, who with hat in hand was sitting in the middle of the sidewalk, begging. ``Ignore him!'' my father said. To my young sensibilities there was nothing to do but wash my hands of such people. Is it any wonder that a proposition learned at church -- that those who started work at sunup and those who punched in just before quitting time received the same pay -- seemed patently unfair to me?

It wasn't until years later that I gained a more spiritual sense of Christ Jesus' words that ``the last shall be first, and the first last,'' and thereby a higher concept of the work ethic.

Writing that a system which honors God should receive aid, not opposition, Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, continues: ``And Christian Science does honor God as no other theory honors Him, and it does this in the way of His appointing, by doing many wonderful works through the divine name and nature. One must fulfil one's mission without timidity or dissimulation, for to be well done, the work must be done unselfishly.''2

My need for unselfishness became very clear to me when my office was relocated. There were large numbers of unemployed, often intoxicated men on my walk to and from the subway station. Their presence deeply troubled me. At first, I wanted them to realize what a tragic mistake they were making by not working.

I realized, however, that it wasn't genuine sympathy that I was feeling toward these men but rather superiority and contempt. I realized that every time I crossed paths with one of these jobless men, I was selfishly seeing myself in terms of my own work and their unemployment rather than seeing both of us called to work in the same vineyard. I pridefully assumed that because of my work I was meaningful and important and because of their lack of work they were not. I was first, they were last.

But I came to realize that being called early to work in the vineyard of God promotes not only an understanding of why one works but a responsibility to do God's work in the first place, which necessarily involves loving one's neighbor.

As these implications of the parable of the laborers in the vineyard took root in my thinking, the false sense of my own importance gave way to a spiritual sense that these unemployed men were, in a way, fellow laborers. I realized that in God's universe no one is unemployed, no one is useless. God's offspring, made in His likeness, are neither inferior nor superior mortals but immortal, valued expressions of the divine nature, fulfilling an individual, God-ordained purpose.

It dawned on me that I needed to see not just a human being standing before me, someone who was unique, purposeful, and worthy to be recognized as such, but God's perfect child, embraced fully in God's love. It became obvious to me that no one whom God's love touches could be useless, falsely dependent. Each laborer in God's vineyard has God-derived power to perform purposeful work. What we need is spiritual vision to see beyond the limited sense of man to his true, spiritual selfhood. In this way we can help elevate people's concept of themselves, and this can lead to an improvement of their lives.

However contrary to man's true nature their present appearance was, I began to see that these men had work of God's appointing, and that sooner or later they would come to realize it.

Can't part of our daily work be to affirm that we and everyone we come in contact with have ``many wonderful works'' of God to do?

1See Matthew 20:1-16. 2Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 483.

DAILY BIBLE VERSE: Establish thou the work of our hands upon us.

Psalms 90:17

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