This is a parable that leaves many of us scratching our heads and aggravated, especially we “rugged Americans.” We (I) read this and get defensive and antsy because we (I) immediately identify with the laborers who started at 6 am. We work hard for our money, but we have our own expectation of a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.
“After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.” So these guys start early, and agree to the value of their days wage. Here it is one denarius, maybe today it might be $150??!!
“And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’” So, this vineyard owner is just all about putting people to work!! So, clearly we have a vineyard owner who is interested in getting people to work!! Full day, partial day, whatever!! He is putting people to work!!
“And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius.” How would your local labor union deal with this guy?? Imagine those laborers who started at 6 am, the twelve hour workers. They must have really thought they were going to clean up when they saw all these short timers getting a days wage!! If I had been one of them, I’d have been expecting at least a double share, at least $300!! After all, I’d been there all day, it’s only fair!! Right??!!
And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ There I am!! It REALLY upsets us to read this and hear about those bums showing up at 5 o’clock, working for an hour, and taking the same paycheck home as we do!! But look even closer – “you have made them equal to us!” There’s the real rub!! Aren’t we BETTER than they are? We’ve been here all along! We get up earlier, work longer hours, and get more done!! What would you do without us? We DEMAND OUR RIGHTS!!
“But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.”” Jesus Christ was, and IS, so completely counter culture. In a world where we are all about counting what’s ours, demanding our rights, Jesus loves to turn the world upside down. We have a right to better pay, a nicer house, a cooler car. Jesus just keeps giving mercy to all. Just imagine if, 12 hour worker or not, we all got what we have coming to us? We are all sinners….and “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23 ESV All of a sudden, maybe we don’t want what we have coming!! Maybe we’re a little more agreeable to grace and mercy, as long as WE are receiving it (of course).
Now let’s really get counter cultural. What if….we are not the twelve hour worker after all? What if we’re “that guy” – the one sitting at Home Depot doing nothing all day until someone picks him up near the end of the workday to put in a couple of hours in the fields somewhere. What if we’re “that guy” – who gets a full days wage for far less than a full days work?? What if I tell you that we are ALL “that guy” to some extent? Peter is the disciple who asked Jesus – “Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?”” Matthew 19:27 ESV. This parable is part of the extended response given by Jesus to Peter’s question. Peter is basically asking – “What’s in it for us?” Peter is one of the 12 hour workers here. He was there from the beginning. Of maybe he isn’t…weren’t Moses and all the prophets, even the everyday Jews of history to this point, weren’t they all there before even Simon Peter? Maybe Peter is a 9 hour worker in this story. One thing I know, most of those reading this, no matter who you are, is at best maybe a 3 hour worker?? I KNOW that I personally am nothing more than a one hour worker. Even when I could, should, or would have been following Jesus, I wasn’t. I lived for myself my way for 42 years. It was only after hitting a bottom that embarrassed my wife and family, a bottom that nearly cost me my family and could gave cost my job, did I go into recovery, meet Christ, accept the offer given, and get to work!! And – I already know that I’m getting a full days wage. I have a purpose for living, my sins are forgiven, and I have a home waiting in heaven. In other words – I’M GETTIN’ PAID THE WHOLE $150!! Realizing I’m only a one hour worker in this story changes my perception of everything. This story certainly doesn’t raise my blood pressure any more. Hopefully, it lowers yours a bit too!!
Matthew 20:1-16 ESV
Writing is mine, theme borrowed from Pastor Brian Zahnd at Word of Life Ministry