Foreman: Ironsmith! Ironsmith anyone? I can shoe your five mules! Ironsmith!
Woman: Hey, you one-eyed man, how much will you charge to fix a barn door, huh?
One-Eyed Man: Lemme fix it first, then we talk about the fee.
Woman: No, tell me how much you charge first.
One-Eyed Man: Look, Madame Frissy, just let me do it and I can do it for free. Let’s go!
Every morning, people looking for work gathered in front of the synagogue in Capernaum Square. Even before sunrise, some of them were already there, sitting on the steps or leaning against the wall, displaying their tools: the bricklayers with their small shovel and plane, the carpenters with their hammers, and the farmers with their calloused hands…
Daniel: Hey guys, why don’t you work in my vineyard? There’s so much to harvest!….. Yeah, all of you!…. A dinar at the end of the day! C’mon, hurry, and take advantage of the day’s yield!
A group of men stood up and followed Daniel… Everyday, Jesus also roamed around the square, with his nails and shovel, hoping to find work…
Neighbor: Hey, Moreno, you look sleepy…!
Jesus: I came late yesterday, so I didn’t get any work… Let’s see if I’m lucky today.
Neighbor: The early bird catches the worm. Look, just before you came, Daniel was hiring some men for his vineyeard. It’s harvest time and the harvest seems good.
Jesus: How much is he gonna pay them?
Neighbor: A dinar, as always. A dinar each and Daniel means it. When he says he’ll pay, he does it. Daniel is okay. He can be trusted.
Foreman: A bricklayer, for two-days work. I need a bricklayer to work for two days.
Jesus: Hey, I’m your man….. Shall we go?
Foreman: Let’s go! You receive one dinar today and another tomorrow. Okay?
Jesus: Alright! See you, Simeon!
Neighbor: Goodbye, Jesus! I told you, the early bird catches the worm!
Neighbor: The Moreno’s lucky. He’s hired at once.
Nato: You bet. I’ve been coming here for three days, but nothing. This is not the time for shearing the sheep, damn! Everyday I sharpen my shearing knife, but what for… One day I’ll end up cutting my head off with it.
Neighbor: Is that what’s bugging you?
Nato: I’m just sick and tired of doing the same thing: everyday I come home bringing nothing for my starving children… “It’s only this piece of bread for today, son. Tomorrow… tomorrow, there’ll be more.” Tomorrow comes, and it’s the same as today!
Neighbor: Times are hard, Nato, very hard…
Nato: I’m not coming home without a single dinar. I can’t bear to see my children starving to death. Really, I can’t!
At nine o’clock in the morning of the same day, Daniel came back to the square’ when the sun’s warm rays had spread all over the square….
Daniel: Hey, guys!… I need more men to work in my vineyard… Anyone interested?
Neighbor: Let’s go, Nato. This is a sure job. Your children will surely have something to eat with the money you’ll bring home…
Nato: Let’s go, Simeon!
Simeon, Nato and a few more, went to Daniel’s vineyard. Soon, the square was again filled with men looking for jobs… At this moment, the children were playing and jostling each other all over the area:
Boy: I’m an ironsmith! Do you need horseshoes for your mules?
Another Man: I’m the mule!
Laborer: I’m a mule too, son…
Titus: Why do you say that?
Laborer: Because that’s what I am… a mule… no more, no less. You’re no less than a mule too. And so are the rest. We’re all mules here and the only thing we haven’t got is the tail.
Titus: C’mon, there you go again.
Laborer: But it’s the truth. I think we were born simply to engage in back-breaking work. Day in and day out, we do the same thing! Doesn’t this get on your nerves, Titus, huh?
Titus: What can we do, man? Is there anything we can do?
Laborer: Nothing!… It must’ve been written some place… that the poor like us came into this world to do hard work and have lots of children who’ll follow in our footsteps: that’s right, to continue doing hard work and with empty bellies… Look at these children… They’ll take our place here, when they’re grown-up, expecting to work, like mules, in order to live…
Wife: There’s nothing yet, Samuel?
Samuel: Nothing, woman. There’s nothing yet.
Wife: What shall we eat now?
Samuel: A piece of boiled stone, perhaps!
Old Woman: A little alms for the blind… Have pity on this poor blind woman!
Wife: Old woman, I haven’t seen you around the square for sometime…! What happened?
Old Woman: Oh, child, look at my skin. Those who see me say that my skin has become more yellow than an egg yolk.
Wife: But… what happened?
Old Woman: I’m dying, child, of an illness that’s sapping my life. Look at me… blind, lame… and now, this!
Wife: Oh, Grandma, I dunno what to say!
Old Woman: Child, you don’t have to say anything… really, if I could only write all about my misfortunes, I would come up with a book longer than Moses’!
Wife: Well, you should thank the Lord for having made you blind. At least you’re spared of seeing ugly things around here… What the hell! If only the waters from the Lake of Galilee dried up, we would fill it up again with our tears!
Daniel: Hey guys, what’s wrong with you?… Hurry up and don’t waste time!… Come with me to my vineyard, for there’s much work to be done! Let’s go!…
A group of men stood up and went with Daniel to his vineyard… At three o’clock in the afternoon, as the sun’s rays penetrated through the walls of the square, several men remained squatting on the steps, still waiting for a chance to be hired for a job…
Samuel: I was told that Daniel is hiring half of the entire Capernaum to work in his vineyard… I hope he’ll come around again…
Another Laborer: His grapes are ready for harvest. Otherwise, the rains will destroy them…
Samuel: That’s nice! First you harvest them, then you bring them to the grape press, and have them fermented in the vats… for…. yeah… what for, anyway?
Laborer: What do you mean, what for?…. so we can have a good shot of wine to wet our throats, dammit! Isn’t that enough?
Samuel: Just enough to wash out blues away. But after that, when the wine has come down from our heads, life goes on the same… bah!
Laborer: And what do you want, man?
Samuel: What do I want?….
Laborer: Yeah, you… what do you want…?
Samuel: I… just want to be happy, that’s all.
At three o’clock in the afternoon, Daniel was back looking for more workers in his vineyard. There were men still waiting, as always, with crossed arms, and heads looking down at the ground….
Daniel: Hey, what’re you doing here yawning and idling time away? I need men to work in my vineyard!… Anyone coming with me?… There’s still a couple of hours to work! Let’s go, let’s go!
At five o’clock in the afternoon, Daniel went back to the square…
Daniel: Good Lord, there are still some of you looking at the clouds!
Samuel: There’s no one to hire us. So, here we are, waiting for our luck to change…
Daniel: No luck will ever befall you here. Why don’t you come with me to my vineyard? After all, the sun hasn’t set yet!
When the moon’s silhouette shone over Daniel’s vineyard, and darkness was beginning to envelop the place…
Daniel: Guys, it’s time for you to stop working…! You may now collect your dues! Come, come, so that I can pay you!
So Daniel called for his foreman:
Daniel: Cyrus, pay each one a dinar. See you another time, fellows!
One-Eyed Man: Just a minute, Daniel. How much did you say you were going to pay us?
Daniel: One dinar for each one. Anything wrong?
Nato: It’s just that…. these four men just came an hour ago, while there are some of us here who have been working the whole day under the heat of the sun and…
Daniel: And so? Didn’t I hire all of you for one dinar a day?
One-Eyed Man: Yeah, but it’s unfair to pay us the same amount that you’ll pay those who came last…
Daniel: Oh, really? And why is that?
Nato: Well, because… because…
Daniel: You’ve got children, haven’t you? And you need money to feed them. That’s why I’m paying you your dinar. This fellow who came last has got children too, and needs a dinar to feed them. Where’s the injustice there? Each one did what he could.
One-Eyed Man: But we worked longer on your farm!
Daniel: Or better, they waited longer than you did in the square… You can’t complain, my friend. Tomorrow, when you’re the last one to come, you’ll be happy to receive one whole dinar. Everybody needs a dinar in order to live.
Salome: My friend and neighbor, Leah, told that today her husband and some men have been working in Daniel’s vineyard… You know something, Jesus? Some were hired early in the morning…
Jesus: Yeah, I was there when Daniel came.
John: Hey, the Moreno woke up early, isn’t that a miracle!
Salome: Then, at nine o’clock he went back and took more men along. He did the same at twelve o’clock and at three o’clock. They say he was still looking for men as late as five o’clock, to work in his vineyard… But this rascal gave everyone one dinar each. Everybody received the same amount, do you understand? Whether he came early or worked for only an hour….
John: He’s always like that… He says that everybody needs something in order to have something to eat…. And everyone gets paid the same amount…
Salome: This Daniel is a crazy landlord!
Jesus: Why do you say that, Salome?…. On the contrary, he’s the best landlord here in Capernaum. D’ya know what I think? When God hires workers in this world, he does the same as Daniel.
John: I don’t get you….
Jesus: Just as Daniel said. We need a dinar in order to live. A dinar of bread. And a dinar of hope, too. All of us are seated in the square, hoping to be happy.
Salome: Of course, that’s what all of us want, but…
Jesus: But we become green with envy when some of us get up from here ahead of us… even if sooner or later, our turn will also come. Similarly, God will do as Daniel has done: He’ll see to it that we are rightfully paid our salary: Everyone receives equal share, which is the best form of justice… Yeah, I’m certain that at the end, when the square is finally empty, we shall get the same dinar, enjoy the same happiness that we have long been waiting for…..
The lights in the fishermen’s village were slowly fading away, leaving the streets and the whole square empty and dark… Capernaum, tired and weary, went into a deep sleep, in anticipation of the light of a new day…
The parable of “the workers in the vineyard” has been generally interpreted as an example to show one’s vocation in different stages of life (the so-called youth, adulthood and old age…). However, because of the profound meaning given this story of Jesus, it can be justifiably called the parable of the “good master.”
In this episode, the parable not only appears as one with a moral lesson, but it can also be taken as a fact of life. Jesus had to draw this story from the life of the poor, at a time when the spectre of unemployment kept haunting them. In any town, the square is a place where people get together. The story had to take place in Capernaum, for people looking for work. In those times, there was an abundance of casual workers who were hired by the hour, for a few days, at harvest time. This was more common in small towns, on the farms, than in Jerusalem. The workers did not have any security; they did not enjoy any rights like the laborers do at present, nor was there any labor union nor any specialized labor. Because of this, life for the poor was totally precarious. The Roman domination even aggravated the situation in what was a typical primitive economic system. In Galilean lands the imposition of taxes led to a common proprietorship, favoring at the same time the concentration of arable lands in the hands of a few. The forced selling of lands by small proprietors suddenly converted them into wage earners. A great number of disorganized laborers seeking work wherever possible constituted cheap labor. Not being hired to work for several days would constitute absolute misery for a worker and his family. This situation is actually experienced by various families in many countries. And in this harsh condition of the poor who live “by the day,” Jesus becomes their companion.
Jesus, as a poor worker, shared this situation. It is important to point out that he did manual work, that he was a laborer, not an office worker, educated, estranged from the daily reality of earning one’s daily bread by the sweat of his brow. His calloused hands could handle rough tools better than office papers. His origin also taught him to do whatever odd job was given him. When the gospel tells us what his occupation was, we must not refer to him solely as a carpenter. The word employed by Mark (Mk 6:3) is the Greek phrase “tekton,” which originally meant “builder” and “artisan.” It was used in reference to the carpenter as well as to the ironsmith and the mason (bricklayer). A man from the barrio, like Jesus, was by necessity a jack-of-all-trades. Besides, he had to learn masonry. On various occasions, he spoke in detail about putting up a house, comparing it with that of building the kingdom of God (Mt 7:24-27; Lk 14:28-30).
The grapevine is one of the most typical plants in Palestine and in all the neighboring countries. Grape harvest begins toward the middle of September and may last up until mid-October. At any rate, it must be finished before the autumn rains set in, because the cold nights may destroy the fruit. Daniel had a good harvest and wanted to gather the fruit before it was damaged.
A laborer in Jesus’ time ordinarily received one dinar. In some cases, food was included in the day’s wage. In small towns, it was often paid in kind. The dinar was the official currency in Israel during the Roman rule. It was a piece of silver and on it was engraved the face of the emperor who ruled the provinces from Rome. It was equivalent to the drachma, also a piece of silver, which was officially used during the time of the Greek domination, about two hundred years before the birth of Jesus.
Daniel was a good master. Although some had to sweat it out for twelve hours while others worked for less hours, he knew that everybody had a family to care for. That is why he pays them the same wage. He does not pay more than what is usual, yet, he does not allow that anyone should be wanting in necessities for the day. It does not matter if the last laborer was slack in the work or did not start early enough. Everyone must eat and feed their children. If he got paid only for an hour of work, then it would not be sufficient for his family’s needs. Daniel was not arbitrary, unfair nor capricious. He was a good man. His heart understood the plight of a jobless laborer, disgusted over life’s uncertainties. Such is Daniel, the good master. And such is God: This story is God’s profile.
Beyond the strict justification of the corresponding wage, Jesus likewise expounds the theme of happiness in this episode. Deep inside us, behind all our actions as human beings, we are constantly pursuing one and the same goal: happiness. All the jobless men in the square and the neighbors of Capernaum were constantly in one way or another seeking their happiness. Well then, this happiness, as Jesus said, will come to all and God will not fail in the promise of being the good master. The history of humanity, with all its injustice and sorrows, shall be saved by the love of a liberating God. The intimate history of every human being, replete with tears and difficulties, shall likewise be rescued. For God’s plan is for us to be happy today and always. This is the certainty of our faith. (Rom 8:31-37).
Many people react indignantly and bitterly before this parable. Theirs is a commercialized mentality: equal pay for equal work; equal reward for equal effort, and what comes out of this is unjust. God, however, is not a banker; neither is he an efficient capitalist. God has a heart. Gestures of generosity are bothersome to the wretched mind. Thus, this story will always scandalize the people who only think of merits that will “guarantee” heaven for themselves.
The first Christian community reiterated the gesture of the good master: each was given in accordance with his or her other needs, not with what was produced (Acts 2:44-45). True justice is more qualitative than quantitative, it seeks unity and not uniformity. It aims to develop each one as he or she is, in every way, so that each may live.