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A newly released report on the privations of those worst-affected in Australia’s two speed economy offers an apt foil for tomorrow’s parable of the workers in the vineyard.

The working poor of Victoria are the focus of this Uniting Church report, particularly those contracted as cleaners in large suburban shopping centres. What is analysed in this report could provide interesting comparisons here in the West, where the resources boom has inflated the prices of many commodities, thus drawing very sharp distinctions between those in the high paying occupations and those filling more menial and poorly rewarded roles. Inequities that might otherwise roll under the radar become more sharply pronounced as families decide between paying power bills and eating properly.

The “kingdom of heaven” parable is about inequities of a different order.  The workers who only worked the last hour of the day harvesting grapes draw the full day’s wage, the same as those who had worked since daybreak. Of course, this is seen as grossly unfair by the latter, and they complain bitterly. The owner, however, is not disposed to discuss the fairness of his largesse. He simply says they were paid what was agreed, and he has the right to be generous to whomever he chooses. Another “last shall be first story” that fetes compassion and generosity over economic rationalism. Those hired in the last hour of the day would likely to have been the “leftovers” of the labour exchange, possibly through old age, frailty, disability or criminality. For subsistence living, a break every now and then is a windfall worth celebrating.

Bring these two realities together – the circumstances of the Uniting Church report and the economy of the reign which Jesus champions – and it’s plain that we have some work ahead of us – a seismic shift in what we truly value as a community.

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