Sunday, September 20, 2020

The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16)

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

“About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.

“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

“‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

“But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”


My friend spoke on this passage this morning, which led me think on it further. The parable is often taken to imply that it’s never too late to come to faith, and the gift of salvation and eternity is the same for a lifelong, faithful Christian, as it is for someone who might be a rebel for all of their life, but just prior to dying (like the thief on the cross) comes to trust Jesus. I agree that no matter when a person comes to faith, they are saved. But may I just say that most lifelong faithful Christians are still rebels to some degree, and struggle with sin every day, at least that is how I see myself as a long term christian.


Anyway, these are some of my thoughts that are a little tangential to the main thrust of the parable,


Those workers that were hired late, where were they earlier in the day? Obviously not as keen for work as the ones that were there early. Did they take a while to realize that there was no sense loafing at home, that there is much more satisfaction in doing a job, even if it is hard. The teamwork and the achievement is more of a reward than the pay itself, it could be said.

Having no purpose in life can be soul destroying, any job is better than no job, so it was a great blessing that the landowner went out again, and again, looking for workers.


Also, the harvest is a time critical job, if you don’t get it done in time, the fruit will go off, and you lose your productivity, so in a way, the landowner had no choice but to go out and find the workers that he needed.


But if the Landowner is God, what is the rush? Surely he can decide to delay the harvest, if necessary? but if the harvest is us, then he needs his workers to bring us in, otherwise, maybe we are lost? This gives the parable and interesting angle?


And what of the upset workers who felt that they were underpaid? I certainly can identify with changing my “reward expectation” without a justifiable reason. Maybe those workers quickly reassessed their personal value and skill, as they watched the last workers get paid a full days’ wage, and quickly justified to themselves that they were really worth 3 or 4 days’ wages rather than 1.


We can easily be overly generous in our self-assessment (as well as overly critical, which is related).

It’s better to judge ourselves with sober judgement, and accept that we are probably no better than the next person, and maybe worse; God still loves us. And that days wages, if that represents salvation, well, what have we ever done to deserve salvation? Nothing.

If there are first class seats in heaven, then God will decide who gets them, but the truth is, we all fail miserably in our Christian lives, repeatedly, yet God’s grace abounds even more, and we are included in the great wedding feast with the lamb (that’s Jesus) wand we are the bride. Unbelievable.


As an example of a great worker, Paul was willing to work for a living (tent making) as well as serve God as a missionary and apostle.

All he wanted was for people to come to a clear understanding of who Jesus is and what a wonderful cleansing and redeeming work he has done for us on the cross. He was willing to die if necessary (yes he was probably martyred in Rome), so great was his love of Jesus and those around him. And he didn’t think he was special, he called himself the chief of sinners.


I don’t think he was after any reward, he was simply grateful that Jesus met him personally on the road to Damascus, and opened his eyes to the truth. In fact he was willing to be cut off for the sake of his Hebrew brothers!


Also, he did not count himself as worthy as the other apostles, if that is the right word to use, probably because at one point in his life he tried to destroy the church.


God does not make many of us famous in preaching or songwriting, or Christian social media or even in our usual jobs, but the fact that we fulfill a role in our family, community and church is a wonderful blessing, that we should not despise. We should not envy others, who appear or are more successful.


God is able to do much more than what we can ever ask for or even imagine. So, brothers and sisters, let’s joyfully continue serving our loving Father, in the jobs he has prepared in advance for us to do.