Summary: An interwoven set of stories reflecting on the parable of the eccentric employer
We are in the one hundredth anniversary of the first World War at the moment, so I would like to take you back to an event that happened in the middle of it. When Emperor Franz-Josef I of Austria died in 1916, his was the last of the extravagant imperial funerals.
A processional of dignitaries and elegantly dressed court personages escorted the casket,draped in the black and gold imperial colors.
To the accompaniment of a military band's processional and by the light of torches, the somber group descended the stairs of the Capuchin Monastery in Vienna.
At the bottom was a great iron door leading to the Hapsburg family crypt.
Behind the door was the Cardinal-Archbishop of Vienna.
The officer in charge followed the prescribed ceremony, established centuries before.
"Open!" he cried.
"Who goes there?" responded the Cardinal.
"We bear the remains of his Imperial and Apostolic Majesty, Franz-Josef I, by the grace of God Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary, Defender of the faith..." blah of blah's, rhubarb of rhubarb's... the officer continued to list the Emperor's thirty-seven titles.
"We know him not," replied the Cardinal "Who goes there?"
The officer spoke again, this time using a much abbreviated and less ostentatious title reserved for times of expediency.
"We know him not," the Cardinal said again.
All these titles but the door remained barred. But before we find how his Imperial and Apostolic Majesty, Franz-Josef I, by the grace of God Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary, Defender of the faith got to be buried, let’s think for a moment about our bible story.
Early in the morning a landowner goes down to the market square to hire some workers to harvest his grapes. It’s got to be done quickly or the weather may turn and the harvest will be ruined.
So he goes looking for workers - and they are only too keen to take the work. He promises them a fair day’s wage and without even asking what that will mean, they take it. The first few hours are OK, but by nine it is getting very hot. The vineyards are on steep slopes and it is hard work. The man goes back to the marketplace and hires some more workers who again are only too keen to come.
The labourers are sweating and working and by midday they are very tired and very hot - will they get all the crop in? So the landowner goes back to the market place and hires some more workers. And again at three O clock.
And now it’s five O clock. The earliest workers have been working in the fields for 11 long hours. In only an hour’s time they are going put down their tools, get paid, go home, put their feet up before a grueling day tomorrow.
And then this crazy landowner goes back to the marketplace and hires more labourers. There’s only an hour to go - what’s the point?
Finally the gong is struck at 6pm and they come forward to get paid. Now there are conventions about this. You pay the people who have been working longest first, so that they can get home and put their feet up. It’s only fair….
But then he calls first the newbies who have been there an hour. Well we are not happy are we brother?
Then we see what he is giving them - a denarius - that’s normally a full days wage. “If he is giving that to those who have only been there an hour what’s he going to give us” think the first hour labourers.
Smiles on their faces they put out their hand for their pay and ….
Well we will come back to how they feel - but first a story from when I was a trainee accountant. I was working in the tax department and the other trainees were all working in audit.
And the end of the first year we all got a pay rise. And I was very pleased getting my pay rise. And then we went out to the pub together… And some of them start talking about what they have got, - now that can’t be true - I look at my letter again and I realise that my colleagues in audit have got twice the pay rise that I got in the tax department. Well you can imagine how I feel. It is not fair! So...
But before we find out what happens next, let’s go to a market in a third world country - Uganda, Sierra Leone, Bangladesh. And a foreman has come to pick labourers to pick the cotton crop. And what sort of people does he choose? It’s like when you are school and you are made captain of the football team and you have to pick who is on your team. Who do you pick first? The tallest. The strongest. Those with the most obvious skill and ability and there is always someone who get’s left and doesn’t get picked….