God’s Love for the Last, the Least, and the Vulnerable
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.” (Matthew 20:1)
Peace and grace of God be with you. I give thanks to our God always for you and our churches because God gives you and our church grace and peace in Jesus Christ and because we could keep one another in our prayers to stay healthy, especially in this challenging situation. We are facing a severe medical war with COVID 19 all over the world. Perhaps, we face a kind of spiritual battle because it impacts the church ministry of God. The daily news updates us about how many people are dying with helplessness. Many people are going to lose their jobs, their shelter, and their beloved families. Most of them are the weak, the least, and the vulnerable in society. We do not know how long it could be like this. These anxieties, in an uncertain situation, take out our hidden and unsolved social mindset. One of the unsolved social mindsets is “elitism” that “I AM THE CHOSEN PERSON.”
It goes back to Israelites. However, “the chosen people by God” were always the weak, the least, and the powerless in society. God says to Israelites, who had a consciousness of “elitism,” as the chosen people, “It was not because you were more numbers than any other people that the Lord set his hearts on you and chose you for you were the fewest of all peoples” (Deuteronomy 7:7).
The Bible is full of stories about God, who advocates for the weak, the least, and the powerless in various contexts. In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 20, Jesus, who was a friend of the poor and the weak, tells a parable about the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is like a landowner who has a vineyard, and who needs laborers for his vineyard. The landowner went out to look for laborers at about 9 o’clock, around noon, and again at three o’clock. Whenever he found those who were idle at the marketplace, he sent them to his vineyard.
The landowner did not ask them: “What is your capacity? What is your background? Or bring me your resume.” Instead, he said, “you also go into the vineyard, and I pay you whatever is right.” They must have been so happy to get a job. The landowner seems like a very generous CEO. He hired whomever he found and whoever was idle. If we had a CEO like this landowner in our society, we would have resolved the unemployment issue a long time ago! It could have been the end of the story—many found their work, and they were all happy.
However, the real surprise of the story comes next. We hear that the landowner went out again at five o’clock! It was almost the end of the day, yet he still found more people standing around. He asked this last group of laborers, “Why are you standing here idle all day?” They said to him, “no one has hired us.” He said to them, “you also go into the vineyard.” At first, it does not seem to make much sense. By the time they arrived at the vineyard, they probably did not have much time to work. However, why would this landowner send them to the vineyard?
Well, let’s imagine a bit which these people might have been. They were the last ones who were left in the job market. Perhaps they were not physically active. Perhaps they were older in age. Perhaps they lacked experience. Perhaps they did not have any work permit. Perhaps, they might not have legal status. Whatever the reason was, one thing was clear: they were not wanted! That’s why they were left to be the last ones. It seems, though, that this landowner did not seem to care about any of the qualifications. He merely invited everyone and paid everyone the same wage. It was just impractical, countercultural, and anticapitalistic — no wonders why those who worked from 9 a.m. complained.
However, that’s how it is in the Kingdom of God, Jesus says. No one has privileges or individual honors. All contribute to the work according to their capabilities; all share the wages according to their needs. What a radical idea! The last, the least, and the vulnerable are treated the same with the best, the first, and the most productive.
This story has at times been used to explain God’s grace: God’s love does not depend on our merits. No matter how many hours, how many days, or how many years we have given to the work of God, ultimately, God’s love does not know any boundaries. The unconditional love of God for all people is a powerful message.
I am wondering, though, if this story adds another layer—that God has a special heart for the most vulnerable because they need God’s love and care more. Latin American Liberation Theologians insightfully named this aspect of God’s love as the “preferential option for the poor”—that God loves all. However, God persistently advocates for the poorest and the most vulnerable. “The last” in the perspective of liberation theology is perhaps poor. “The last” in the view of black theology is perhaps those who have been racially discriminated against. “The last” in the perspective of feminist theology might be women.
My experiences and backgrounds have led me to proclaim that “the last” are the weakest of our world: those who suffer from physical, emotional, and mental pains without knowing whether healing might happen; those who suffer without adequate resources for basic needs of food, shelter, and education; or those who suffer under the unjust systems of discrimination and inequality.
When have you felt most vulnerable in your life? Perhaps it was when your loved one died. Or, perhaps it was when you felt like you were a failure. As such, no one can always be strong. We all go through some weak moments in life. It means that no one has the privilege under the grace of God. God gives us grace and loves freely.
The more we share the love of God, the more the grace of God increases, 30 times, 60 times, or 100 times. Even though we have a small gift like a tiny mustard seed, when we share with others, the seed grows and becomes a big tree that birds may have shelter on. May God’s Holy Spirit empowers us to share the love of God with the last, the least, and the vulnerable, and guide us to experience the Kingdom of God even though we are experiencing a pandemic of COVID 19! Everyone has the equal right to receive the grace of God. Let us be the channel of God’s grace for all God’s people.