The Good Place
Bekkah convinced me to watch a TV she felt that I would love, and we have been watching it after the girls have gone to bed. It’s an NBC show on Netflix called “The Good Place”. It is about where people go after they have died. They either go to the Good Place or the Bad Place. It’s obviously based off religious notions of heaven and hell, but the show doesn’t associate with any religion, just that there is an afterlife and it’s based on how good or bad a person was on earth.
What you find out immediately is that the main character Eleanor, played by Kristen Bell, has somehow accidentally been placed in the Good Place when she didn’t lead a good life. She tries to hide that error by everyone, including the architect of this particular neighborhood she has been placed in. As part of her hiding it, she attempts to blend in and be better so that no one notices that she doesn’t actually fit in and belong there.
She finds herself surrounded by an ethics and moral philosophy professor, a philanthropist, and a Buddhist monk who took a vow of silence from a young age. Essentially she is facing all of these incredibly worthy people while trying to pretend to be what everyone thinks is a lawyer who dedicated her life getting death row inmates sentences reversed.
As you can see the whole system of getting into the Good Place is based on merit and what we as Christians would call works righteousness. If you spent more of your life doing good things then you were tipping the scale in favor of going to the good place, and if you spent more of your life doing bad things then you went to the bad place. Can you imagine what people might think of her if they found out that she wasn’t actually good? Can you imagine the frustration and how upset people would be if they found out that her job was as a pharmaceutical salesperson convincing people to buy a drug that they didn’t really need and I believe didn’t really work for what they were selling it as. She clearly didn’t belong and the I bet if anyone found out they would be very resentful of her and the fact that she got to live in such a good place.
Being resentful is exactly what the landowner accuses the laborers who worked the whole day of being when they grumbled for being paid the exact same amount of a denarius as those who only worked for 1 hour. Why should a person who worked 1 hour be paid the same as someone who worked 10-11 hours? I believe that most people in any society at any point in the history of our world would be upset with such a notion. It immediately brings up our concept of fairness and being paid for the work that you have done. I think we can all agree that someone who works 1 hour cannot say they did as much work as someone who worked for 11 hours. Unless those 11 hour workers were taking naps the whole time and only actually put in 1 hours worth of work, there’s just no way you can make those two things equal.
Just like the philanthropist from the Good Place probably couldn’t understand at all how a pharmaceutical con artist could possibly belong there instead of the Bad Place; those two lives lived just aren’t equal. I bet the people hired between 9am and 3pm were more than happy to just walk off quietly while the landowner and the 1 hour workers were being berated by the all day workers. Let’s just leave quietly while no one pays attention to the fact that we all got paid a denarius too.
Taking a step back from the perspective of the all day workers and the payment, I want to take a look at what it must have felt like for the 1 hour workers to have been told to go and work in the vineyard. They had been waiting in the marketplace all day waiting for someone to hire them. You would think that after the initial hiring that happened early in the morning there would have been people that left assuming they would not be hired by someone. There might be those who stuck around for a few hours more, but once the hiring happens and the day is moving on, more than likely many of them would have cut their losses, gone home and done whatever else they could do to make use of their day. Yet this parable tells the story of workers who stayed at the marketplace all day long hoping that someone would hire them and pay them something. They needed to be paid to provide for themselves and quite possibly their family.
Despite being rejected for whatever reason it may have been they stuck around. It may have been no fault of their own that they weren’t hired. Perhaps it was the perception of those who were hiring. Maybe they didn’t look strong enough, or they were too old, or they had an injury, or it could have been their demeanor or simply what they were wearing that caused the person hiring to pass them over. That doesn’t mean they weren’t capable it just means that they were perceived that way, through no fault of their own.
Yet, here comes this landowner, who may or may not have actually needed more hired hands to help in the vineyard, but seeing these people still waiting for someone to hire them, does that very thing. He not only hires them but gives them enough in pay so that they can survive for another day. His payout wasn’t based on merit or hours worked, but on what each person needed regardless of anything. The landowner knew a denarius would allow them to have what they needed, so that is what he gave them.
God gives us what we need no matter what. Not only that but God provides that generosity and showing of love to all people. The workers aren’t just the people who came at the last hour, but they are the ones that no one else wanted, or saw as worthy to work and receive what they needed to live for another day. This parable isn’t about merit or about fairness, it is about loving every person wherever we find them in this life. Who are the people in our society, our community that are being rejected by others as unworthy or unfit? Do we reject them also or do we welcome them into the family of God? Do we complain that they are being provided for, or are we the ones called to provide for them so that they too can have what they need for another day?
As we discover ways to reach out into our communities, I would say we need to be welcoming to all people no matter what. God calls all people into the family of God, not just the desirable workers who were picked at sunrise but all people regardless of how everyone else may perceive them. Each and every one of us and all people of this world are worthy of God’s love and forgiveness. We all receive the same payment no matter where we came from. That is the good news of the kingdom of heaven. It is good news for everyone because whether we are first or last we all are blessed to be claimed by God. Amen.