It is sometimes said that there are two topics of conversation which should never be aired in polite company. One is politics and the other is religion. So, to bring both religion and politics together is especially dangerous.
Some recent research, published in the newspapers underlies this. While most people believe that everyone has a right to believe what they wish and practise whatever faith they wish, this is all best kept to themselves, and in particular religious leaders should not ‘meddle’ in politics.
Yet they do. In America, where Church and State are separated by the Constitution, there is much discussion of the influence of the ‘religious right’, and whether Catholics can support politicians who vote in favour of abortion.
I don’t want to get bogged down in the nitty gritty of policies, and the Church in England and Wales, while often speaking on political issues has never - so far as I can remember - supported one party against another.
So let’s look at principles, because that is what today’s Gospel helps us to do.
I have always been struck by what CS Lewis wrote about this. He was asked whether a truly Christian society would be left wing or right wing, socialist or conservative, and he answered that he believed there would be something to both please and annoy both sides. In terms of family life, individual morality and so on, the Christian society would look quite conservative, promoting marriage, children, families, the sanctity of human life. Conservative values. On the other hand, in terms of social policy, economics, education, health care, the Christian society would look quite socialist, providing generously for the weakest in society, and taxing the richest to provide equal education, health services for all. And so when the Christian votes he or she needs to put both considerations in the balance.
And so to the Gospel.
Here we have the labourers in the vineyard paid the same rate whether they worked all day or just for one hour. Now the political mind looks at that story in terms of fairness and justice. On the one hand it could be said that the parable underlines the rights of the employer, the vineyard owner, to do what he wishes with his money - to pay what he likes to whom he likes when he likes. No place for unions or regulations or a minimum wage here. But on the other hand another political mind may disagree and say that the parable underlines the need for all to be supported, everyone to receive a basic wage, all to be given a living income whether work is available or not.
Which is right? Well both and neither. The Gospel deals with political issues, but also does far more.
Political life and questions are about fairness and justice, about rights and entitlements. They are all important in their own way. The Church supports struggles for justice, the promotion and protection of human rights – the right to a living wage and the right to own property.
But the Gospel does not stop there. The Gospel is not about rights – but about responsibilities. It is not about justice and fairness, but about love. It is about doing what is right, but also about doing more than is needed.
The Good Samaritan does not only stop to help, but he takes the wounded man to the inn. The man who owed a great sum of money does not only give the debtor time to pay, but wipes out all the debt. The vineyard owner does not only find work for those seeking it – but pays them more than they are due.
The Church must challenge politicians. It must promote human life, human rights, peace and justice – but it can never be restricted to them. For God’s love is greater, more generous, than any legislator or political policy could ever be.