Once upon a time there was a new McDonalds franchise opening on a road with a lot of traffic. The owner employed 10 workers and offered to pay them the legal minimum salary of $8 dollars an hour. On opening day, everyone was very enthusiastic and there were red balloons everywhere.
At noon, there were so many clients that the owner had to obtain additional help. He went to the office of day laborers and hired 5 additional workers promising them a fair salary.
At the end of the day, the day workers got a $60 check. This was 15 dollars for each of the hours they worked.
The following day, the regular employees went to the owner complaining that the day workers received a check for almost as much as the one they received, even though those workers had worked for only half the time they had worked. The owner defended himself saying that the regular employees received payment based on the 8 dollars an hour legal minimum salary that he had promised. The day worker received a salary of 15 dollars an hour, a fair payment because they and the regular employees had the same need of money to support their families. In reality, the legal minimum salary is not fair because it is not adequate to support a family in today´s economy. The lesson is that a legal minimum salary does not need to be fair to be legal.
Likewise, there are many things in life that are legal but not always are fair. (The opposite is also true; all that is fair not always is legal; for instance, Martin Luther King´s civil right movement.) Most of these are found in the area of the economy where the desire to own and take possession in the consumer society causes much poverty and suffering.
This parable reflects in modern circumstances one of the same teachings of the Gospels of these three Sundays.
Sunday 25 – Mathew 20:1-16: All workers have the same needs.
Sunday 26 – Mathew 21:28-32: What counts with God is to do His word, not only to repeat it like the elders.
Sunday 27 – Mathew 21: 33a-43: The elders were like the laborers who killed the landowner when he came to receive the part of the crop that was due to him.
In the agriculture society of the Roman Empire there was an enormous disparity between the vast majority of the peasants and the small elite living in the cities. Is this so much different from the enormous disparity between the owners in today´s society and the vast majority of the labor force?
Father Tracy serves as main priest at the St. Frances Xavier Cabrini in Rochester.