This Sunday a brand new deacon delivered the Gospel message. He has been a regular parishioner at our St. Thomas Aquinas Cathedral parish. His name is Joe Bell and was upon the difference of Josh air, and Tzaddic, Fairness and Justice. As a schoolteacher, Joe presented the children always arguing that judgments are not “fair.” It is not fair that slower children get more attention in class or less sociable children get the basketball for recess. It is not fair, but it is just.
The image that came to mind as Joe gave his homily is that of the shepherd. Josh air is Hebrew and from which we derive the name Israel, Upright of God. It means following the straight path. We are the flock of God. Sometimes the flock ambles off the road. The shepherd must also amble off the side of the road, to bring the errant lamb back. That extra time off the beaten path might not be fair to the reliable sheep, but it is just. The shepherd is responsible for the sheep. The political, economic, and religious pastor is responsible to God for his charges.
The Gospel today was the story of the landowner who went out to hire laborers. He goes to the labor hall three times during the day and hires people each time. Joe Bell correctly quoted a very important passage out of Deuteronomy:
לֹא-תַעֲשֹׁק שָׂכִיר, עָנִי וְאֶבְיוֹן, מֵאַחֶיךָ, אוֹ מִגֵּרְךָ אֲשֶׁר בְּאַרְצְךָ בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ.
בְּיוֹמוֹ תִתֵּן שְׂכָרוֹ וְלֹא-תָבוֹא עָלָיו הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ, כִּי עָנִי הוּא, וְאֵלָיו, הוּא נֹשֵׂא אֶת-נַפְשׁוֹ; וְלֹא-יִקְרָא עָלֶיךָ אֶל-יְהוָה, וְהָיָה בְךָ חֵטְא.
וְזָכַרְתָּ, כִּי עֶבֶד הָיִיתָ בְּמִצְרַיִם, וַיִּפְדְּךָ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, מִשָּׁם; עַל-כֵּן אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ, לַעֲשׂוֹת, אֶת-הַדָּבָר, הַזֶּה.
You will not oppress a hired laborer, poor and needy, whether he is of your brothers, or any of the travelers in your land within your gates. You will give him his pay, neither will the sun go down upon it; he is poor, and sets his animate being upon it: or he cry against you to the Personal Name and it be a deviance against you. You were a servant in the Land of Oppression, and the Personal Name your Almighty Judge redeemed you; I Mitzvah you to do this. Deuteronomy 24:14-18
The Hebrew word used for hired laborer, and the word for pay is “Sugar.” The root word used for “hired laborer” and “pay” means “to fill,” “to saturate,” or to drink freely.” The word comes to refer to “New Wine,” because it makes the drinker drunk quicker.
Joe was quick to point out early and often, the landowner may not do what is fair, but what is just. He pays “Sugar” to all. He does this, as what God requires. We remember what it was like to be oppressed. God rescued us all from over there to over here. The only difference between us is, where “over there,” is. On the Statue of Liberty there is a poem, “Give me your tired, your poor…”
Seder, upon which Jesus founded our Eucharist, is based upon this. We remember what it was like to suffer. Therefore, we do not allow our neighbor to suffer. In the Eucharist, we relive, in present time, and for the first time, each time, Jesus’ suffering on the cross. We die with him and we rise with him as we leave Mass. We suffer, and God rescues.
We pay all of our employees, “Sugar,” “to fill,” “to saturation.” When we see those not filled, we as individuals, and as a nation, Israel, help to fill them. We give to St. Vincent’s, because it is Tzaddic/just. God tells us the rules of employers, “If you do not fulfill the job, I will find someone who will.” God gives refresher courses. From the Gospel reading, the landowner is not fair, he is just, a Tzaddic. He pays to all “Sugar.” God calls all of us, as individuals and as a nation, to do the same.