WHAT IS TODAY'S DENARIUS ?
The Gospel parable is predicated on the value and worth of human labour. It is good and right that we should work. The payment of a denarious is the financial symbol of what is enough to provide food,clothing and shelter--the basics of human dignity for a worker and the workers family. So ho are the workers that we are talking about ? As Christians,we ought to be asking whom we employ within our global community,and under what terms and conditions they labour. ''Whatsoever is right'', says the householder in terms of defining what to pay Matthew 20;4,7.
The issue is about justice,located in the fundamental principle that human labour is an expression of human dignity ,and must be valued in that respect. The parable also presumes that workers in the market place ought to be there, capable and available for work. These people are not the elderly and the Sick;nor are they children or anyone else who is vulnerable. Here again the issue is about the employement of children and people who are vulnerable should be well rehearsed in our statement of priorities as Christians who seek to to shape a better world.
UNICEF calculates that 158 million children between the ages of five and 14 are exploited in employement that places them in mines,factories,domestics settings,or farms where they often work with potentially dangerous pesticides. This is one in six of the world's children. We should not ignore the gender elements either girls are much more easily exploited in domestic work and trafficked for the sex trade than adults or boys;boys are pressed into insurget armies and brutalised by war at a terrifying early age.
The issue is one of justice and human dignity. Employement that denies children and young people the access to education and the freedom to discover God's gifts within themselves is terrible distortion of the dignity of human labour. No price can be set for such labour,no going rate can ever be ''right''. There is another category of those we cannot know about for certain in the parable. It is the labourers who are never hired.In our terms these are the people who are long term unemployed. Most fritening of all is the evidence that in some places,unemployment is a third generation issue.
Work is simply not available. What does this say about the dignity and self esteem of a household,a family,a neighbourhood? Do we say ''no work full stop and do nothing at all?
There neighbourhoods where for years no one has said;i have a job for you,and it will pay a living wage''. How do they servive anyway ? How do they feed themselves and their families,and where do they hide their heads at night and in winter? The parable has a subtitle that is hidden from us. It is the last verse of the previous chapter,and is a familiar refrain in the teaching of Jesus;''But many that are first shll be last; and the last shall be first'' Matthew 19;30. The twist in the parable's tale is not simply that those who worked the shortest time got the same as the others; it is that these people whom no one else wanted;the bottom of the social pile. But they too received the living wage,and the dignity of the opportunity to labour for it.
As Christians our voices should be heard asking for an account from those who manage economies. Have they matched pay to labour, to human dignity,and to justice? We should demand that the exploitation of children and the vulnerable be uncovered as the crime that is. And we should insist that no community be left to bear on its own the deadly cost of long-term unemployement. Our stardard of measure is the generosity of God, not the meanness of the market forces.At the same time there should be less and less phone sick calls,smoking breaks and coats on chairs so as to attend our own commitments else where,bearing in mind of the millions of job seekers on tarmac struggling to make ends meet.
These millions are not expecting a single denarii at the end of the day,whose fault is it ? Blessed are those who have even an odd job for they expect a days wage through their sweat and sincere efforts. Our focus is not the next election; Where many endless pledges and soothing promises are forwarded to impress voters ,but it is more urgent matter of what account we give when the Lord comes in judgement and either say ''come to me or depart from me... AMEN.