Recall the proverbial gospel reading of a master trying to call workers for his vineyard. The classic development of the plot of course begins with him calling out some two or three persons to work for him in the transitory time of the day – in intervals of three hours, namely: at nine in the morning, at twelve noon, at three in the afternoon and later at about five or six towards the evening. The workers agreed with the master’s contract, all of which verbally signed the consensus of receiving a particular amount to work for the day. Came evening and in a calm and just manner, the master now handed to the workers who were picked in different hours their supposed wage for a day of labor. But then in a furiously ravaging act, the workers who started their job the earliest, those who started at nine in the morning, complained about the rationale behind the exactly similar amount all of them were paid and further probed for a higher salary. The master immediately at that juncture laid the point that the agreement was such and nothing could be more just than for them to have arrived at a singular contract, which the earliest workers have been reminded to have agreed upon. Here, a crucial conjunction to the workers’ complaining plight reflects in another story the question of the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son: I am always here with you but you never even make a feast for me; now this profligate son of yours returns, who by the way insulted you, made you appear dead when he squandered all his share of your possessions, and yet automatically you slaughter for him the priciest animal!
What would then be this justice that the master – in the case of the other parable, the father – was talking about? I claim that the parable is not just about the literal, legal, and binding definition of a contract but it tells us necessarily about justice in an unmerited covenant, that is to say, justice in its other face: mercy in a justifiable sense. What do I mean by this? For me, the interesting part of the story would have been the calling itself – everyone was called at first but not all heeded the work. To put a more existential note, the same time of working pertains also to the eventual time of response one authentically attends in matters of belief in one’s life. Some respond early, baptized from the beginning of religious orientation; some at the midpoint in their life who probably realized something missing in this world, and some heed later. For the later ones, imagine for example persons who go on busily catering their ambitious wants and do not believe in some divine guarantor, namely some self-proclaimed atheists or practical ones who just go on with the rites but we all know do not really adhere to the demands of belief, who then in a snap just realized that they are already at the end of their lives – picture them dying for instance in hospital beds or lying bloodily in the street – and surprisingly, perhaps for the first time, they start to pray amidst the unknown realm besetting their lifetime disposition. If such persons still enter paradise, due of course to the metanoiac belief from the accession to the call of the master, then this would impulsively appear unjust, unmerited even, by those who throughout their lifetime have gone through the rite of passages their belief systematically required them, in short feasibly by some puritans or some conservative overly pious religious. The initial resentment formula would inevitably harangue: why would it still be just for a person who lived his life as hedonistically as possible and who knew nothing but the so-called ‘allurements of this world’ to enter the same paradise as me! Here, the trap of a fake robotic belief triumphs, because real and true believers are those who are (as a necessary proclivity) inclusive and welcoming, like the pastor bonus, for the atheist who now joins their ranks.
The lesson in the end then is found in the beginning. Already in the calling of everyone, there is justice being offered, there is a covenant not just unmerited for those who don’t really deserve it – for even the early workers can fall to the trap of self-aggrandizement – but precisely for everyone and the future of those who strive in the end to deserve and take one’s place in the vineyard.
In this mindset, the deconstructive element justice, or the compassionate constituent of itself, substitutes the idiomatic expression of hope: justice springs eternal. The calling is eternal – it doesn’t change; it goes the same for everyone, regardless of whatever stage of life one is in. And why would one demand a higher payment than this undeserved prize? Nothing can ever surpass, nay reject, the bounty of salvation – an absolutely resounding claim that includes (but strategically hinges) also the secularism that salvation can only be found in this world.
Now it is vital for the psychoanalytical drive not to succumb to the same trap of mystifying what justice means in this covenant. The two banalities that should be avoided in psychoanalysis are: first, the kind of thinking in the old Greek narcissistic way of self-knowledge, the idea that one has to obsessively improve and know oneself, rapport sui, and so on; and second is the endless striving of always meriting the position where one must not suffer and ease suffering, the idea that one has to find happiness always in each suffering moment. No, these two prosaic misunderstandings move away from the point. Instead, one has to dedicate oneself to an external cause and fight for it, that is to say, in avoidance to the trap of the early workers, to move away from the petty thinking of ‘whether or not this is just for me to accept that the late workers are paid the same’, or even the big questions like why is injustice part of human society, the cynicisms of politics, love, and so on. In other words, one has to move on from the idea that one is carrying the problems of this world, and that the only happiness for oneself is only one’s own happiness – and I attack blatantly everyone or everything that one holds dearest as extensions of this happiness: the nepotisms of persons and the idolatry of things. Here, I even go further than the cliché that suffering is necessary for one to succeed: on the contrary, there are more important and necessary things than one’s personal suffering and one’s bourgeois soul-searching of oneself. Every passing hour should rather be confined to this external devotion of selfless giving. Days are given for work, which means that the dialectic of fighting for one’s salvation, as St. Paul says, is always imperative and the same calling to pray unceasingly warrants the same kind of work one must strive not just for oneself but also for everyone. Within this daily drive of dedicating oneself for the salvation of all, this work in the vineyard, justice regains its eternal character. In this constant rehabilitation and allowance of self-giving in the distinct works that are uniquely inhibited to each person, one can find progressively the just compensation of new meanings to live for.
But a final point that resembles the predicament of this scenario has to be inserted. It is the idea in another scriptural text which states that the Kingdom of heaven is like a thief – salvation is like an unexpected guest. Equivocally, no other guest that subjects to the metaphor of a lion waiting for someone to devour than the demonizing evil preventing for one to work. The scary conclusion is when this moment of paralysis reaches the end, when it suspends the preparation and freedom of one to acknowledge that the end is already near. One even has to go further to describe this as a foolish act like the virgins who failed to prepare. Salvation nearing is the twilight of one’s life, the payment drawn close. And the unpredictability of this time is not even clear. This is why justice still stands its eternal bearing in the world because one cannot fully choose to be in the most privileged position. The privileged part is of course to play the prodigal son or the late worker in one’s entire life with the planned eleventh hour serving as time to be serious, to convert and to ask for the grace of salvation – for anyway, the calling is the same. But because of this unforeseen character of the twilight payment, this judgment of the just master who will pay the necessary wage like a thief, one has to continuously instigate the responsive act of deserving at least the minimum wage. The point then in this dilemma of justice is precisely to keep working, as early as possible, because the expiration towards the end, as it were, remains certainly cryptic.
With this logic of working unceasingly for salvation as early as possible, one can relate a wonderful lesson with a Dominican author who once explored and situated the cardinal virtues in the four stages of life. Where would one place prudence, temperance, justice and fortitude in the developing stages of childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and old age? The message is that fortitude is for the elderly so that they can face death openly, prudence for the adults who are to make their life-decisions, temperance for the adolescents who are raging in their passions and hormones, and justice, as it would appear surprisingly, for the children – for in this stage, they should first learn the crucial lesson of right and wrong, even the lesson of forgiving them as to the molding of their behavior when they commit mistakes. From there, children should already have the idea that as early as possible, they should do the right thing because this habit is going to be the second nature that will be carried over until the end. So again, the beginning is essential for in it the most important lesson lies. One must not wait for the end to catch one off-guard. Instead, one should work constantly and as early as possible to be just – to be in the right temperament to think over and live for the finale of an eventual redemption.