Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Boots on the Ground
September 20, 2020Revised Common Lectionary
Welcome to Paintbox. If you're new to the site, you can learn more by visiting the about page. Each week you'll find links to interdisciplinary lessons followed by my collecting question for the week and then my personal reflection.
As I read the parable of the laborers in the vineyard in light of the death of RBG and the heroism of California fire fighters, I am reflecting on the centrality of both justice and generosity to the human family.
Science & Nature
Witness California's Record Blazes Through the Eyes of Frontline Firefighters
DAVID HELVARG , STUART PALLEY
Close up view of the experience of California fire fighters in fighting the current wildfires raging in the state.
Open in a new tab
History & Culture
Tribute: The Legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and WRP Staff
Summary of the arc of RBG’s stunning career and highlights of her legacy.
Open in a new tab
What are you doing to make the divine economy a reality?
So the last will be first, and the first will be last.—Matthew 20:16b
My mind has been on fires. Both physical and legal. I have read the parable of the laborers in the vineyard in light of a National Geographic feature about firefighters in the Sierra Nevada Mountains northeast of Fresno in California and, in the last 24 hours, in light of news of the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The plight of the firefighters highlights to me what determines the difference between times when our eyes are focused on our circumstance relative to that of another—like the laborers who began working in the morning in the parable and resent those who came at the end of the day only to receive the same wages— and times when we can focus on the gift of our own experience without needing to compare ourselves to others.
What determines that difference, perhaps more than anything else, is awareness of our interconnectedness. This parable challenges us to consider the relationship between our quest for justice and our experience of gratitude. Generosity is predicated on interconnectedness. The scarcity mentality that fuels injustice is rooted in the illusion of separateness.
We learn in today’s science and nature lesson that the firefighters refer to each other as “boots on the ground.” The boots on the ground are the ones who can save your life, the ones on whom your life may, at any given moment, depend. Like the engine crews who came to rescue two firefighters who got trapped on a steep unstable slope after cutting a horseshoe-shaped firebreak up the hill through thick stands of trees below the ridgeline—these are the fellow heroes to whom fire fighters know they could, at any moment, owe a debt of gratitude. Gratitude for their very lives. Such awareness changes a person’s perspective.
I am writing this reflection the day after we learned of the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. For women across our country, RBG was boots on the ground. By her example, through her tenacity, her relentless pursuit of justice, her constant study of the law, and her fearless presence on the bench, she changed the course of our lives for good. The cases RBG won that changed the status of women in this country are too numerous to count. As a mother and professional, one area that stands out to me is her fight to end the barbaric demand—disproportionately placed on poor women from my homeland—the Deep South—to be sterilized in order to be employable by certain companies. In today’s history and culture lesson, the ACLU highlights Ginsburg’s accomplishments in many areas of the law, including this one. As I review all she has done, I feel gratitude for my life as a woman in this country in this era of history.
The fight for women’s right to work and have family has always been rooted in the simple request that women be allowed to work in conditions that are fair and reasonable with equal opportunity. Holding the history of our struggle up to the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, I find it necessary to draw a distinction between generosity and injustice. Generosity is never offered on the backs of another—but rather, as something in addition to what is fairly one’s due. The fight for women’s rights has always been a request simply to get to the table. Generosity would be lagniappe.
The economics of scarcity has never served the human race well—whether based in the idea that there is not enough for those of all genders, all races, or all creeds—any version of such a scarcity mindset impoverishes us all. We must honor our sisters and brothers in the human family as if our lives depend upon one another. Because they unequivocally do. That lesson is being driven home to us presently in every imaginable way. In the divine economy, no act of true generosity need be envied. Because, in the divine economy, what is given generously is always on top of what is already given as one's due. To make sure of this, God puts boots on the ground, those who give their lives to secure what is due for the rest of us. The last shall be first and the first shall be last—no limits, no exceptions. Thanks be to God for boots on the ground making the divine economy real. RIP RBG.