The Other Side of the Parable

(The gospel reading today was Matthew 20:1-16, the parable of the generous vineyard owner. As I listened to the Lector reading the parable, another story came to life in my head.)

I wake late, as usual, and reluctantly. And with a splitting headache, also as usual. And a dry mouth. And a foggy memory of the night before. How many beers? How many shooters?

Damn those sounds from the kitchen – my noisy, needy family at breakfast, clattering and squabbling. Soon, soon, Joy will be off to work and the kids to school and the world will be ignorable again.

Did I drive home? What time did I get home? She will be mad again. Please God, let her just leave without a lecture. I am so goddam tired of her lectures, so tired of promises, so tired of trying.

I like to drink. I need to drink. Goddammit, I need to relax after work, I need to be with men who like to drink.

Footsteps coming down the hall. I pull the covers up, turn on my side, close my eyes. Do not respond as she opens the door and calls my name. Do not respond to her loud sigh. Do not respond as she shuts the bedroom door, just short of a slam.

Much later I wake again, pull on boxer shorts and lurch to the kitchen to grab a can of beer, some bread and baloney from the fridge. To the family room for some channel surfing.

Early afternoon, I get dressed. Why shower when I am going out to try to get work? I’ll just get dirty; showering can be done tonight.

I get to the work center without really focusing once on anything much. Stand around, smoking and exchanging nods, the occasional half wave, the even less frequent few words, with the other men.

Then, just as I am about to head back home, grateful and ashamed to have spent another day not working, already rehearsing the story for Joy, some guy pulls up in a big van and hires a bunch of us to work in his fields for an hour.

Lots of men are already working; some have been working in those hot fields all day. Incredibly, at the end of the day, the end of just an hour’s work for me, everyone gets paid the same.

Man, were those who had been working all day pissed! “What kind of shit is this? We busted our balls in your fields all day and you give these jerks, these one-hour wonders, the same pay?”

The guy who hired us didn’t give a shit about their complaining. “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?”*

What a windfall for me! I start home, but with all that money, much more than I counted on, I realize I have enough for a few drinks and then some. I put $20 for drinks in my right pocket and the rest, for Joy and the family, in my left pocket. Just a few drinks, then home. Maybe we’ll take the kids to Mickey Ds for dinner.

The next day I wake late, as usual, and reluctantly. And with a splitting headache, also as usual. And a dry mouth. And a foggy memory of the night before. How many beers? How many shooters?

There was no money for Joy and the family. There were no more chances. Joy left and took the kids.

That was twelve years ago. It’s taken me twelve years, twelve years to stop blaming that generous man for giving me so much money for an hour’s work. Twelve years to stop being envious of everything and everyone.

Twelve years to get here. “Hello, my name is Gary and I’m an alcoholic.”


*Matthew 20:13-15

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An Allegory, or Parable

Once upon a time there were 12 people in a room. This room was very beautiful with large windows on every wall. Now it happened that 10 of the 12 people were blind which was sad because they could not experience the full beauty of the room. On this cloudless summer day deep in the South, as the sun climbed ever higher in the sky, the room grew brighter and brighter. The two people who were not blind said to the others, “We want to pull down the shades because the bright sun is hurting our eyes.” But the ten blind people said, “The sun is not hurting our eyes. We don’t understand what you mean. We don’t know what bright is.” And the blind people and the sighted people fought and it was sad.

God’s Good Climate

After emailing with Norma about Erin’s thoughts:

Sometimes storm clouds
Sometimes clear skies
Sometimes rain
Sometimes sunshine
Weather changes

Sometimes cold
Sometimes warm
Sometimes new growth
Sometimes falling leaves
Seasons change

Through all weather
In all seasons
Always we live
In the climate
Of God’s grace and mercy
Her unchanging love

My own parable

As I prayed through Psalm 86 this morning, making it personal in my usual way, an image came to mind that made me laugh at my own greediness. I imagined myself drowning in a rough sea. Like Peter, I was sinking beneath the waves. But a woman in a boat threw me a lifeline and hauled me in. She saved me. I was so grateful. I thanked her again and again.

We got to shore. I went home. I dried off. I loved telling the story of how I almost drowned, how I had swam out too far in water too deep, too rough for me. But I didn’t drown because this wonderful woman saved me. She was there, she used her boat, her lifeline, her strength to save me. I loved telling that story.

Then, one day, I needed money and so I went to the woman who had saved me and asked her for money. Another day I had problems at work and so I went to the woman who had saved me and asked her to fix those problems for me. Another time I had made some of my family angry with me so I went to the woman who had saved me and asked her to get them to not be angry with me anymore. When I realized I didn’t like myself very much, I went to the woman who had saved me and told her that since she had saved me, it was her responsibility, her duty, to make me better.

I made the woman who had saved me once responsible for my whole life, for making everything right, for making everything better.

What a totally absurd story. That poor woman who had saved me would have had to join the Witness Protection Program — the Savior Protection Program.

Fortunately for me, God is not human; She doesn’t care if I am being absurd. She is willing to help me every single time. Still, I do feel that perhaps I could be just a bit more reasonable in my expectations.