When we imagine the world of Jesus it is easy for us to fall into a very romanticized image of it, where everyone looks like the shepherds in the Christmas pageant. I dare say issues of poverty, lack of medicine, infant mortality, and unemployment rarely enter our minds. In truth is was a harsh cruel world. For many day labor, as we call it, was the best hope they had. Jesus uses the image because it would have been one that was familiar to the people.
Not unlike the modern version men would go out to a known spot and stand all day in the scorching sun and wait, and pray. As one can imagine, the men who would come by hiring, would choose the strongest and healthiest first, hoping to get the most for their money. The ones who appeared weaker would be left, perhaps never being hired. One more day without work, without food for themselves and their families. In this daily cycle, the strong would get stronger and the weak would get weaker.
The gospel tells us that it is 5 PM when the last group is hired. For any who have been to Israel, imagine standing outside all day. To make sure that we understand that it is not due to laziness that these men have not been hired, the master asks, "‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’"
As we all know those who worked all day, whine the whine of the toddler, "It's not fair." But, in fact, what was unfair? Did not each worker do the best they could with the situation that they were given? Those men could have given up and gone home earlier, but they didn't they stayed, and waited, and hoped.
If I am at all wise, I realize that a huge portion of who I am is not of my own making: my genetics, my parents, where and when I grew up, the opportunities I was given. And yes there were the challenges as well, many of which I did not choose or control.
In order to judge another person, we would have to know all the variables. That's why judgement is left to the master, God.
Each of us are simply called to get up each day, and like the workers in the gospel do the best we can with what that day brings. And doing our best may change from day to day depending on the circumstance. The one constant is that if we ask God will give us the grace to live each day well.
Give us this day our daily bread.