Have you ever been in the schoolyard, or gone to the park to play a game like soccer or football, and the way it worked is that there were two captains who picked teams. I’ll take her, you take him, one person after another, back and forth until there is only one person left. Have you ever been the one person who was left? What’s it like to be picked last?
I remember when I was in Grade 7, I really loved sports, and there was a teacher who decided that we were going to have a school volleyball team. None of us knew how to play volleyball, but we wanted to learn, so twenty of us showed up early one morning at the school gym for the tryout. When we got there, the teacher who was the coach said to us, I want you to line up from tallest to shortest. Now, when I was in Grade 7, I was really short, and so I went to the end of the line. Then the coach said, “Since none of you know how to play volleyball anyways, I’m just going to take the tallest 12 people for the team and teach them.” And she went down the line and counted 1, 2, 3 all the way to 12, and then sent the rest of us home. How do you think I felt?
When my friend’s daughter was eight years old, she decided to try out for a competitive soccer team. She and all the other girls started practicing, and running, and training, working really hard. The girls all did really well, they were becoming good soccer players. Finally, after a month of practising, it was the night when the team would be chosen. All the girls and their parents were put in a room, and one by one a girl was asked to come and see the coach. My friend’s daughter had to sit and wait. She really, really wanted to be picked for the team. But finally when the coach called her in near the end, she told her that she hadn’t been chosen for the team. She kept it together until she got to the car, and then she cried all the way home.
When I was maybe 12 years old, I wanted to find some work to make some money. Somebody told me that if I went to the local golf course, there was a place near the clubhouse where you could wait, and if a golfer needed a caddy, they would hire you. So I went and waited in that place with a bunch of other kids. Most of the golfers didn’t want caddies. But then a foursome came to get some caddies. Everyone waiting there was pretty excited. One of the golfers recognized one of the boys as the son of a friend, so he picked him. Two others picked the same caddies they had used the previous week. The fourth one picked the biggest kid. I didn’t get picked. I stood around all day by the clubhouse, and finally went home with no money.
Jesus tells us a story in today’s gospel about labourers in the market place. These were just ordinary people, poor people, who came to the village square hoping to get work for the day. But their situation was a lot more serious than any of the other situations that I’ve been telling you about, because they really needed to get work, otherwise they would have no money to buy food for their families. So there they were, up before the sun, early in the morning, hoping to get work, hoping to be chosen. At 6am, the landowners and managers would come to the village square to hire the workers they needed. There always seemed to be more labourers than there were jobs. Who would the landowners pick? They picked the people that they knew. They picked the ones who had worked for them before. They picked the ones who looked strong, since they would be doing physical work.
But if you were small, or weak, or sick, or injured, or disabled, if you had no connections and no experience, how would it feel to come to the marketplace every day and to see others chosen ahead of you, to be left standing there, doing nothing, waiting. Especially if that meant that at the end of the day you would have to go home and tell your family that there would be no food the next day.
How would you feel?
Sad. Hopeless. Worried. Crushed. Worthless. A failure.
Jesus has a phrase for people who are in that situation, people who are feeling like that, people who haven’t been chosen.
He calls them “the poor in spirit.”
And you know what he says about them?
He says this, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
When the landowner returns to the market place at 5pm, near the end of the day, and sees these people still standing around, sad and dejected because they had not been chosen, poor in spirit, what does the landowner do?
He chooses them, and he blesses them and he brings them into his vineyard. And at the end of the day, he honours them by placing them first in line, and he gives them what they need so that they can go home with dignity and feed their families.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
That’s what the kingdom of heaven is like. That’s what God is like.
Homily: Yr A Proper 25, St. Albans Church
Readings: Exodus 16.2-15; Matthew 20.1-16
Image by Pabak Sarkar (Creative Commons)