Jesus’ parable loses its provocative edge when we associate the Good Samaritan with a do-gooder preforming random acts of kindness. This short story, instead, confronts our most deeply held prejudices as the wounded and half-dead man lying by the side of the road receives astonishing help from an enemy when our most respected people fail to offer assistance.
Jesus' parable with the familiar title of “The Laborers in the Vineyard” is better titled “The Protesting Day Laborers.” It raises provocative questions about how to live in community and what ultimately matters. The vineyard owner’s strange actions raise provocative questions about respect, justice, equality, generosity, mutual care, and how to create healthy, flourishing communities.
We have a penchant for keeping score and seeking revenge for wrongs committed against us. Jesus’ parable of the unmerciful servant turns that mindset on its head through undeserved mercy. A mindset that channels everything through the narrow categories of debts owed and debts paid will adversely shape our lives. The way of tit-for-tat and revenge paves the path to hell, but the way of mercy and forgiveness leads to the kingdom of God.
There are no undocumented immigrants or second-class citizens in the kingdom of God. Everyone in welcome and we’re all valued for who we are. In Matthew’s Gospel, the parable of the lost sheep serves as a parable of life in community and especially of caring for the most needy and vulnerable among us. A kingdom inspired church, therefore, refuses to discriminate between rich and poor, professionals and laborers, brown, black and white, straight and gay, or male and female. We all belong.
The movie, “The Two Popes,” about a fictional conversation between Pope Benedict and Cardinal Bergoglio (who became Pope Francis), makes a good segue to Jesus’ parable of the sower and the outrageously abundant harvest. The conversation between two very different men with different visions for the future of the church is filled with an abundance of grace and the capacity to reach beyond set positions to recognize our common humanity and faith.