On the labourers at the side of the road

May 9, 2017 at 6:56 am (Parables, Things I'm thinking about) (, , , , )

For the Kingdom of Heaven is like a wealthy man who was making renovations to his house and drove down Rosmead Avenue at 7am on a Tuesday morning. He found some men sitting on the side of the road waiting for work. Pulling over, he called over to a man holding a paint roller, another holding a chainsaw and a third sitting next to a box of tools. He agreed to pay them R300 each for the day’s labour – a daily wage twice as large as the minimum wage set by the government. He set them to work at his home.

A few hours later, around 10 in the morning, he drove back down Rosmead and finding a few more men, agreed to the same rate and set them to work. When he went back down at midday, he saw a man who had been waiting for work since 6 am. The man was looking down at his shoes, dejection found in the line of his slumped shoulders. He was so engrossed in looking at the ground that he didn’t even notice the bakkie which had pulled up. Quickly recognizing the call for work, he jumped in the bakkie cab. When they returned to the house the others were already eating lunch. The wealthy man beckoned to the newly arrived worker, telling him to get out and join the others in their meal before starting work. Once more, around 4pm, the wealthy man was driving down Rosmead and found still more men sitting on the side of the road.

He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. He ushered them into the vehicle and they too joined the workers on the construction site.

At around 5pm it was time for the workers to leave. A few of the wealthy man’s guests arrived and were sitting around in the garden drinking cocktails as the man gathered the workers and paid them each the wage of R300. The guests looked on in amazement. One of the guests, a lady, began questioning the workers: “Are you not angry that you who worked from early in the morning, skilled labourers who brought your own tools, received the same wage as the men who came an hour before the end of the work day? Isn’t that unfair? And what of the man who arrived at lunch time who shared the food that should have been all yours? He hadn’t even worked yet, before he was sitting down, putting his feet up and having tea!” The more she asked, the angrier she became. The workers didn’t respond, but thanking the wealthy man for the work, went together on their way.

When the workers had left, the wealthy man joined his friends. The woman who had been questioning the workers was furious. She was planning some house renovations and asked her friend whether he wasn’t ashamed that he was flaunting his wealth and driving labour costs up for all the rest of them. Others chimed in: “Now all labourers will expect R300?” “Don’t you think they’ll just stop by the shebeen on the way home and drink it away?” “I can’t afford to pay R300/day. What am I supposed to do now?” “You know they would have worked for you for half that amount. These people don’t need that much – they make do on much less.” “If you pay unskilled labourers the same as skilled labourers, there’s no incentive for people to improve themselves? Wage tiers are put in place for a reason.”

On and on the friends went. Eventually the wealthy man had enough. “What is it to you how I spend my money? You’re angry because my generosity highlights your stinginess. You accuse me, to justify yourselves. You snakes, trying to get away with the bare minimum required by law and hoarding up wealth, gorging yourselves on the labour of others.”

Sullenly, the guests got up to leave. As they went away they murmured amongst themselves, listing out the things they do for poor people and hating the wealthy man’s arrogance.

“Just like him, to try guilt-trip us into giving away everything we have. Well, just wait, because when he’s squandered his wealth away, those men are still going to be sitting day in and day out on the side of the road waiting for work. And then they’ll be forced to take anything they can get,” the lady grumbled.

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on immoral wealth

December 27, 2010 at 6:27 pm (People I have known, Things I want to see changed, Things I'm thinking about) (, , , , , , , , )

It is months since I have last written and months since I had the privilege to attend the Lausanne Congress in Cape Town. The months since have been full and busy and I have not had the time to think or integrate or even remember all that happened at Lausanne. I think the time is now – to start at least.

I do remember one conversation. I was in a session in which Richard Stearns (The Hole in our Gospel) gave one of the first unequivocal positions and statements on immoral wealth, greed, capitalism, consumerism, the creation of desire, and entitlement I have ever heard. During the comment session, I got up and said so. As I left the building a man approached me and asked if we could meet to chat about something I had said in my comment. During supper, I went and sat down with him and he introduced himself as a German MP and asked me what I had meant by “the creation of desire”. I went blank for two reasons: first, he was an MP and I felt completely out of my depth even sitting down to dinner with him. This was excacerbated by the fact that as he asked the question I realised I had nothing more to say on the topic. I didn’t really know what I meant by it. But it was something that stirred me, something that had come up in the past week and somehow felt like one of the keys. And so I sit now with the sense still that all of this – poverty, immoral wealth, consumerism, the prosperity gospel, the creation of desire – is all vitally linked and must be spoken too. I guess I am trying to “understand the times, with knowledge of what [the Church] should do” as the men of Issachar did (1 Chronicles 12:32). Someone else at Lausanne spoke of the need for a prophetic critique of how we live – but what must be said?

I guess I am tired of a “Gospel that protects the injustice of the status quo” (Richard Stearns). I am tired of wealth that perpetuates and sustains itself at the expense of the majority. I am tired of greed that justifies itself by itself . I am tired of a christian culture that buys into consumerism and the creation of desire. I am tired of the problem continually being defined as “poverty” without any consideration of the counterpoints of wealth and greed. I am tired of a prosperity doctrine which is insiduous in “western” conceptualisations and responses to wealth – “I am entitled to all the wealth I have because my wealth is a sign of God’s blessing. I deserve what I have”. I am tired of all the justifications that absolve our consciences – that say that conviction is condemnatory and therefore can be ignored. I am tired of not knowing how this all fits together and what is right and how much is too much and how this plays out in my life. I am tired because I think this is another one of the myriad things that is “too big for a divided church”.

And after all I am left thinking about two things:

“Use honest scales, honest weights, and honest measures. I am the LORD your God, and I brought you out of Egypt.” (Leviticus 19v36)  In other words, “don’t you dare oppress people when I’ve just gone to all this effort to save you from being oppressed.”  (Peter Houston – http://conversation.lausanne.org/en/resources/detail/10767#article_page_1)

And this:

“I was hungry; while you had all you needed. I was thirsty; but you drank bottled water. I was a stranger; and you wanted me deported. I needed clothes; but you needed more clothes. I was sick; but you pointed out the behaviours that led to my sickness. I was in prison; you said I was getting what I deserved.” (Richard Stearns; paraphrase Matthew 25:42)

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