What Would Jesus Do?
For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. (Matthew 20:1)
WWJD. Do you remember that fad from years ago? What would Jesus do? People wore WWJD bracelets and t-shirts and necklaces and, supposedly, made decisions based upon what they thought Jesus would do. Supposedly.
If we are being honest, in most instances we are not doing what Jesus would do. What Jesus would do is hard. Loving enemies, forgiving repeatedly (70x7 times), speaking truth to power – these are hard things to do, and they go against our natural inclination, even for the most generous and faithful among us.
Take the parable of the laborers in the vineyard for instance. A landowner needed workers to harvest his vineyard and so he went out first thing in the morning and found workers and agreed to pay them, “the usual daily wage.” He then went out about every three hours and hired more workers, agreeing to pay them whatever is right. When the day was done, the workers were given their pay and those who were hired at 5pm were paid the same as those who had worked the entire day. They all received “the usual daily wage.”
How unfair! You mean someone who worked only one hour was paid the same as someone who worked all day? Is that what Jesus would do?
Apparently yes. The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who made sure everyone had the dignity of work and the resources to feed their families.
One reason people get upset upon hearing this parable is that we see ourselves in the story as one of the workers who labored all day. “I show up. I work hard. I don’t complain. It’s not fair that these lazy bums get paid the same as I do.”
Now try to imagine how it would feel to be standing out there all day and not be chosen. Perhaps you’re older, not as fit, or just plain unlucky. All day you are worried about how you will feed your family, how the kids will look at you when you come home empty handed. Imagine how you would feel to be the last one hired, thinking you will only get a pittance for the day, but something is better than nothing. And then you receive “the usual daily wage.” Imagine, for that is what the kingdom of heaven is like.
When I hear people complain about forgiving student loan debt, that it’s “unfair,” right away I think of this parable in which Jesus doesn’t care about fair and unfair. Jesus cares about the lives of people and whether or not they have enough to live on and how they are left behind by an economic system that exploits the many for the benefit of the few. Jesus did teach his disciples to pray, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Mt. 6:12).
Jesus cared deeply about life in this world, which is why when it comes to forgiving debts, that is what Jesus would do.