Key Text: Matthew 20:1-16
Take a moment to reflect individually on your understanding of the gospel. Write down one or two sentences that summarise what you understand the gospel to be. At the end of the course we will have a chance to revisit your thoughts and see how your perspective might have changed.
The Rt Revd Saulo de Barros is the Bishop of the Amazon, where we support training for those who campaign for social justice. Bishop Saulo writes:
Thousands of acres of Amazon rainforest have been destroyed to make way for cattle farming and other agricultural enterprises. Multinational corporations have illegally claimed huge swathes of public land. Struggling to survive alongside them are 700,000 families who still use traditional farming methods.
Anglicans in Brazil have always been aware of social and environmental issues. For this reason, as Anglicans, we were invited to participate in the work of SINTRAF (Union of Family Farmers), in their campaigning work and in setting up a food security programme.
In their struggle for justice, social action groups in Brazil often call upon the presence and energy of the divine. This is how people find the strength to combat capitalism. Our role as Christians is to encourage the people with a vision of a biblical God who hears his people’s cry and helps them (Ex 3:7-8).
As we look around our world, we know we could produce enough food to feed everyone. And yet, 842 million people do not eat enough to be healthy (World Food Programme). Our goal should be the sharing of resources; instead we allow large corporations to generate profits at the expense of the poor. We need to condemn accumulation. Everyone could have enough to live on. This is the message of Christ, who said we can’t serve God and money.
The fight for social justice is a huge challenge. Conflicts in rural areas have increased. The Pastoral Committee for Land reported that 34 rural workers were killed in 2010 after protesting against the powers of multinational corporations.
Poverty is not an accident. It is the result of wealth being concentrated in the hands of few. We need a profound structural change in society. Mary, the mother of Jesus, sang, ‘My soul glorifies the Lord… He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty’ (Lk 1:46, 53).
In seeking to address social and environmental issues, we are praying and working for the construction of another possible world.
In first-century occupied Palestine, there was widespread exploitation as families lost access to land and subsistence crops, which were given to large producers, many from outside the country (Lk 20:9). As a consequence, farmers had to offer themselves as cheap labour to survive. The squares were filled with ‘idle’ men (Mt 20:3), who would have been treated with prejudice – as if their unemployment was a sign of laziness or a lack of divine favour.
For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard.
After agreeing with the labourers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard.
When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’
So they went.
When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same.
And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’
They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’
He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’
When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the labourers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’
When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage.
Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’
But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
So the last will be first, and the first will be last.
God of justice, in our unequal communities
we see our part in all that divides us from each other.
As we claim your forgiveness, strengthen us
to live and work for a fairer, happier world.