18 Sep 2011
“‘“Are you envious because I am generous?”’” (Matt. 20:15b) In the name …
Sherry Turkle is a professor of the social studies of science and technology at MIT. She studies and teaches the effects of technology and science on society, how we live with them and how we live together with them. She says that 9-11 changed our perspective on technology. Before that horrible day, being constantly connected was a convenience, but after 9-11 it started to be viewed as a necessity. She writes about the fact that her daughter was in elementary school that day ten years ago. The administrators and teachers who were raised during the atomic bomb drills of a previous generation herded all of the children into the school basement for their safety. Their instinct was to isolate the children. Here their cell phones did not work and here they had no news about the unfolding events of the outside world. Now that elementary school generation is in college, and their response to an emergency is exactly the opposite of the atomic bomb generation. This new generation seeks greater connection in times of danger and confusion, not isolation.
Turkle writes about the good and the bad of this evolving relationship with technology and with each other, but either way it does give a concrete example of how interconnected we are. A couple of years ago I gave a Youth Retreat session and I showed a color picture of the World-Wide-Web. It’s too small for you to see here, but it looked alive. It reminded me of pictures of the neuron-connections in the brain, all talking to each other simultaneously and coming together to create a picture of our inner and outer world for each and every instant of our lives. Each point on the map was an individual connection to the web, but none of the points stood alone. Each had a myriad of connections with other points.
And Facebook has become a modern phenomenon on this World-Wide-Web and our need for connection. The ones who are on Facebook can “friend” other people. And soon they discover connections with people that they may not even know, may not even have heard of before, but because of their shared connections with someone else, they also become connected. Multiply that out by just a few connections and you have hundreds of people, maybe more, all “friended” on Facebook. Our connections with each other extend out further than we can even imagine, to people we don’t even know, but who have an effect on us and we on them.
This idea of being connected in both important and trivial ways can help us to better understand and appreciate the message behind today’s parable of Jesus. I was speaking about this very parable to a brother priest the other day who will soon be working on new School of Christian Living materials based on our Confession of Faith. The twelfth and final tenet of our church creed speaks of the hope of universal salvation, that everyone will eventually become part of God’s heavenly kingdom, and that this is not based primarily on our individual merits, but upon, in the words of our profession of faith, “the divine power of love, mercy and justice.” Number 11 speaks of our merit, but Number 12 leaves us with the final thought that it is God’s mercy that holds the last word. It is God’s mercy that cannot condemn a soul to never-ending torture in hell. My friend Rev. Killough speaks of the image that if Judas is in the deepest recesses of hell, then Jesus is there to minister to him. This is the theology that emerges when we take Jesus’ words to heart. This is what emerges when today’s parable ends with the probing question to all good people of faith, “‘“Are you envious because I am generous?”’”
But this parable is not only about the nature of God, the inspiring and wonderful nature of God. It is also about us and our connections with each other. By having the full day labourers paid last, and by intentionally doing this, they are being set-up to see if they care about others rather than only themselves. They are not cheated in any way by the owner who pays them what they agreed to as a fair daily wage. They are just being challenged to be concerned about those around them. Can they rejoice in the good fortune of their fellow workers? I remember in Scranton taking New Testament classes at Marywood College while I was in the Seminary. There was a nun in one class who was involved in the local parochial schools. She asked her children about this parable of the vineyard labourers, and she was surprised by one girl’s answer. The nun was thinking about the owner, but the girl focused on the men standing around all day looking for work. The girl’s father was unemployed, could not find work, and this is what drew her into the parable’s story. She understood their desperation, their worry about taking care of their families, and she appreciated the kindness of the owner.
In our current economy that girl’s perspective is far from uncommon. There are far too many people who would love to work, but who cannot. Their stories fill the news. Home foreclosures are going to accelerate now that banks have caught up on their paper work. Families will become homeless. Driving to Stratford on Thursday I heard on the radio about the increasing numbers of female homeless veterans. They have served our country and when they get out too many have nowhere to go, nowhere to work, and nowhere to live. I would like to talk to our Sunday School classes about working towards helping other children who are in need. We’re all connected. That’s the reality behind the reflex of reaching for our cell phones. That’s the reality behind the hundreds of “friends” on Facebook. And that’s the reality of our faith that Jesus is trying to talk to us about today.
In Isaiah we read of God that “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.” (55:9) And in this truth is also our challenge of faith, a challenge to become more and more like God, to see how God acts, like in the parable of the labourers, and to be challenged to be more like Him. That we may all better see our interconnectedness and better care for each, that church may awaken us to the importance of community, may this be our prayer today in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo