“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. 3 "About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the market-place doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went. "He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. 6 About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ 7 "‘Because no-one has hired us,’ they answered. "He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’ 8 "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.’ 9 "The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These men 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.’ 13 "But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 "So the last will be first, and the first will be last."
It’s not fair! It’s just not right! Gather the protesters, make some signs, and let’s march!! Look, this unjust businessman has workers who worked the whole day, from early morning till dusk, and they end up getting the same pay as a bunch who came a worked just one hour. INJUSTICE!! Burn the barns! I know it sounds like something out of our own daily news. The problem with all the indignation and ire though, is that this story is about God’s kingdom where there is not injustice. In fact, Jesus told this story to teach us what God’s kingdom is like. So maybe we ought to take a closer look . . .
First of all, this story is about the character of the landowner and not about the rights of the workers. Notice that not even one worker in this story applied for his job; in every case the landowner went out to give them a job. The text explicitly says that throughout the day he hired those he found standing around doing nothing. The truth is that they would have had no work and no benefits and no hope at all if the landowner had not searched them out and called them to service. Second, every worker was given exactly what he had been promised. The original workers were paid 1 denarius, which is the price they agreed upon. The rest of the workers were promised to be paid “whatever is right.” The word “right” in vs. 4 is actually “righteous,” and refers to something that conforms to the will and purpose of God. Third, even though everyone received what he was promised, those who had worked longer grumbled because they received what everyone else did. They assumed that they would get more than they had been promised because they had put forth greater effort. Their thinking was based on the idea that what one receives should be related to how hard one works. But you know what? That’s not how God’s economy works. It doesn’t operate on works and effort. It operates on grace and mercy.
If you look the passage up in your own Bible and read what comes before it you will see that it was a visit by a rich young man that prompted the story in the first place. This man was convinced that he was “doing” all that was necessary to please God. Probably others who knew him and saw how God had blessed him materially would have thought so too. But in the end he went away sadly because it was apparent that he loved his wealth more then he trusted God. Jesus ended the telling of the parable with the phrase: “So the last will be first, and the first will be last." By that He was saying that the standards of world and in God’s kingdom are different; rich and poor, great and small, powerful and weak are seen differently in the eyes of God and in the courts of the world.
We really aren’t so terribly different from the people of Jesus’ day. We are so used to thinking in worldly terms and judging things by worldly standards that it is hard for us to really grasp the economy of God.
Here are some truths that are illustrated in this parable:
1. What we receive from God we have because He is generous and kind and merciful, not because we are diligent or worthy or wise.
2. It is those who are called by God and who respond to that call who receive the benefits of His kingdom; and this is all according to His plan and purpose, not ours.
3. Serving Christ is always gain and never loss. It is a privilege, not a burden to serve the King of kings! Working in the Lord’s vineyard is the best place in the world to be!
4. We can’t apply worldly values to God’s eternal kingdom. His kingdom and His economy aren’t fair, they are much much much better than fair! If the option is fairness or grace, choose grace.
Pastor Keith Andrews