Friday, December 26, 2014

The laborers in the vineyard, part III

Continuing our discussion of Matthew 20, the idea that all the laborers are paid the same wage, regardless of how long they have worked, can only be understood as correct if we understand the inner, or spiritual, meaning of this parable.

The workers who came first supposed that they should have received more. Yet this is, of course, impossible; because the parable is about our whole being, all of our inner parts together. The whole receives a single benefit here.

If one wants to take the superficial and most literal inner interpretation of this, one would refer to Gurdjieff's many "I"s;  and yet this is not enough. The parable is subtle, because it does not just refer to the divisions of our personality, but the many inner parts — instinctive, sexual, emotional, intellectual, and physical — which make up our whole being, along with all of their subsidiary and auxiliary parts.

In other words, the wholeness of our Being — our entire physiology, psychology, and spirituality — is addressed by the work of the kingdom of heaven. When the day is done and the work is over and a reward comes — in this case, not even a reward, but, in fact, nothing more than the standard wage that is deserved for standard work when laboring for a standard householder — the reward comes to the whole of our Being, not just the parts. Every part of ourselves benefits from the labor, regardless of when it was recruited; and of course, it's not only fair, it's impossible for it to be any other way.

The parable is beautiful, subtle, and extraordinary, because it points out that even when right labor is done in the right way for spiritual purposes, to benefit our inner selves,  there will always be dissenting elements in us that argue that they didn't get enough out of it. Does this sound familiar? It ought to, and I am sure that to most of you it does.

 There are parts in us that will have to sacrifice more. They will have to bear the burden and heat of the day. It behooves us to discover a place of resignation in us to understand with all of our Being, all of ourselves, that from the beginning we agreed in an inner sense that we would work in whatever way necessary to reach an understanding of God.

In this inner effort, some parts of ourselves have to work much harder than others; and they have to give up much more. The parable is a reminder that no matter how elevated we become — and the parable reminds us, by the way, that there isn't any elevation, just a return to the ordinary state, which always ought to be one of proper inner service for a proper inner wage — some parts of ourselves will argue they didn't get a fair deal. Our apple, in other words, always has a worm in it somewhere.

The householder in this parable is, in fact, a man suffused with the generosity of heaven: remember that the men who came in the third, the sixth, and the 11th hour all received the same wage as these griping laborers who came first. This generosity is in fact typical of the reward that comes to those who pursue a just spiritual life; and the analogy does eventually extend not just inside, but outside as well. Yet one must live within the kingdom of heaven, inside one's spiritual life and the rewards that it brings for this ordinary labor in the ordinary vineyard, to understand how all of one's Being, even the parts that perpetually complain about what are essentially good things, are worth every bit of the labor that goes into them.

Take note of this last, because the good householder in this parable reminds these complainers, didst not thou agree with me for a penny?

These parts of ourselves that agree to engage in inner spiritual labor, sacrifice, in exchange for a benefit, a wage, always begin agreeing that the transaction is fair and that the wage is just. In other words, from the outset, they see what is essentially a good thing, and they agree to work for that good thing. It is only at the end of the day when they see that the good thing benefits everyone that they decide to make things bad. This is, in fact, a habit everyone shares; and it is always the resentful workers who come first in ourselves and think they have done more than others and deserve more than others — in other words, those who are not generous, but selfish — who take this bad attitude.

Christ more or less sums it up with the last words the householder leaves us with:

 Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?

 Here is the moment where that which is selfish in us condemns the generous and the good.

 And that, in its essence, is where the only unfairness in this parable lies: in the parts of ourselves that, no matter the wage, in the end don't want to share the wholeness of our Being, which is of God.

Hosanna.

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