Gracious vineyard owner
Text: Matt 20:1-16
Theme: God gives us what we need.
Image: Receiving payment.
Need: Unity, be less judgemental
Message: Be content with what you have.
As Jesus was teaching in the countryside, a rich young man came up to him and asked, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus tells him he has to keep the commandments. “But I have,” replies the young man, “ever since my youth.” Jesus turns his full attention to the man, and with a raised eyebrow says, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell all you possess, give the money to the poor, and come follow me.” When the young man hears this his heart drops; he turns and slowly walks away realising just how much he loves his wealth. When the disciples heard what Jesus said to the man, they say, “Well, we have left all that we had, and have followed you. What then will we get? We did what you told the man to do, what is our reward?” “You will sit on twelve thrones,” Jesus answers. “And you will judge the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left everything for my names sake will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.” The confused looks on the disciples's faces makes it obvious the lesson does not sink in, so Jesus tells them the parable we just read.
Page 1: The early workers think they should get more than they did.
It was early morning and the time for the grape harvest was beginning. A vineyard owner awoke early in the day. It was a fine morning. The birds were singing in the trees, and the sky was a clear deep blue. He could tell it was going to be a hot day. The past few days, the mornings have had a chill to them, reminding him that the harvest season was fast approaching. It was getting close to the end of September, and he could feel the heat of the summer beginning to dissipate. His steward came into his office and said, “Master, the grapes are ready, and we do not have enough workers. If we don't get the grapes in before the Autumn rains come, they will all be ruined.” “Don't worry,” replied the master. “I will get enough workers for the harvest.”
As he left he house and stepped onto the street, the sun was just beginning to peak over the horizon and bathe the city in a rich, warm, golden glow. He made the short stroll down to the marketplace, where things were already hectic; farmers bringing in produce from the countryside, vendors selling various household goods, and people beginning to line up looking for work. He walked over the men congregating around the well. “Who wants to work?” he asks. Immediately all eyes turn to him. “I'll give you each a normal days wage if you want to work for me.” The men could not believe their luck. Most of the men had only just arrived, and usually had to stand around for a while, at least a couple hours, before they got hired. They all jumped at the chance to have a good day's wage and he sent them off to his vineyard.
About 9 in the morning, the master decides to go back down to the marketplace to see if he missed anybody looking for work. The sun has not risen high enough to drive away the shadows and the air in the city is still rather cool. The master walks down to the bustling marketplace, now in full swing. He is harassed by various vendors trying to get him to buy the latest cloth, the best chicken, the most luxurious couch. He ignores them all and their voices become a background buzz; he is looking for more workers. He spots some lounging in the shade waiting for a prospective employer. They spot him too, and begin strutting about like a bunch of roosters; hoping he will pick them. He tells them all, “Go into my vineyard too, whatever is right I will pay you.” “Great,” they think, “we haven't had to sit around here too long. Hopefully we will get a good pay cheque out of this.” And they hustle off to the vineyard.
The owner does the same thing at noon, then again at three, and then again at five, only an hour before quitting time. He wanted to make sure he had as many people working for him as he could get. Then, at the end of the day, he instructs his steward to divvy out the pay, beginning with the last hired, and moving on to the first hired. When the people line up for their pay, the ones who came last feel kind of sheepish. They had only worked an hour, and not hardly gotten their hands dirty. They had been standing around all day at the marketplace, and had not been hired by anyone. They were happy they were finally hired, but were not expecting much pay. When they put out their hands, and received the shiny denarius, a full days pay, they were ecstatic. They were so surprised they could hardly even say thank you, and they scurried out of the vineyard. Word got back to those hired first, that the others had received a days wage. “Really?” said one, incredulous. “They only worked one hour! If they got that much, and we worked 12 times as long, we should get twelve times their pay!” Visions of glory begin to fill their heads as they begin to mentally spend all the money they will get; days of luxury and leisure, of relaxation and refreshment. They finally stand in front of the steward, goofy grins adorning their faces, both hands out to catch the windfall of silver they will get for their day's labour, they were extremely disappointed when he placed the single denarius in their hands.
“No, no,” said one of them to the steward. “There must be some mistake. How could we be paid the same amount as those who came last? We deserve more. We have been here all day long. We have done all this work for you, while they lounged in the shade of the marketplace. Why should they get paid the same amount as us?” As they walked away they muttered under their breath, “What kind of business man is this guy?” The owner was standing by the gate of the vineyard, thanking all the workers as they left for the night. As the early workers were approaching him, he heard their conversation, he saw their angry gestures, he realised what was going through their heads and he shook his head in sadness. “Friend,” he says to one of them. “Have I done you any wrong?” The worker was shocked at the intimacy the owner was showing toward him. He stood there, mouth gaping, staring at the owner. He was speechless. “Did you not agree to work for a denarius? Why now are you demanding more. When you came to the marketplace looking for a job, I offered you one. I have given you what you need. I have given you what you were searching for, why then are you demanding more?”
They forgot how grateful they were when the owner walked into the marketplace and told them to go and work in his vineyard. They forgot how nerve racking it could be to sit down in the marketplace all day while no one hires you; praying that something will come up so that you can bring home a little food for your wife and kids. They forgot the blessing they had been given to be hired in the first place. Now they demanded something which was not theirs to demand. They thought they should get more than they did. The owner had given them what they needed, yet they demanded more.
Page 2: We think we should get more than we do.
God has given us what we need too, yet still we demand more. We think that we deserve something which we do not. God came out and found us in the religious marketplace, while we were searching for meaning and direction. God provided us meaning, he provided us with direction, and he promised to save us in the end. Why then are we angry when the same promises are given to others?
I grew up on a dry land farm on the plains of Alberta and do not know a thing about harvesting grapes. When I was in Europe, however, I met a couple of guys from Denmark who did. They were travelling around various countries looking for work in vineyards. They had decided to pick grapes for some pocket money, while travelling and seeing the rest of Europe. I talked with them about their experiences, and the work.
“One of the hardest things to get over is waiting for work.” Dane said. When you post your name at the employment office, you hope someone is looking for workers. You hope that someone will hire you before your 20 euros runs out at the end of the day. Then you get a call. One of the vineyards is hiring, and you have to start right away. So you gather all your things together and take the bus out to the vineyard. A whole load of people get off the bus and walk over to the booth set up in the vineyard gate. Every person is given a number so that they can keep track of how many kilograms of grapes each has picked. It is back breaking work. All day long you are hunched over, looking under the leaves of the vines, cutting off the clusters of grapes, and tossing them in the basket strapped to your back. At the end of the day, the steward meets you at the gate, and pays you according to the number of kilograms you picked that day. It is hard work, and all your muscles ache as you crawl back into bed. At the end of the day it is hard to believe you were so thankful for the work. You are tired, cranky, and just want some rest. But the next day you are extremely grateful they need you again, and even though it is hard to lift your head, you are thankful for the work.”
Dane's vineyard owner worked with the assumption that more work equalled more pay. Our whole world is set up that way, and it pushes us all to the limits of our abilities. All too often our Christian community acts that way too. We notice those who have spent their whole lives in the church more than those who have just arrived. People pride themselves in being part of one of the families who founded their church. We seem to think more highly of those who are called out into the mission field than those who daily visit the sick and the lonely in their neighbourhood. We organise our church structures around the things of the world, around amounts of money, around numbers of people, around success and failure.
The workers hired late in the day may represent people whom God calls closer to the end of time. We, then have been hired later than the Early Christian Church, and they were hired later than the Jews. Jesus is telling the Jews that they ought not resent the Gentiles who have now been accepted as God's people, nor should they expect something more than what the Gentiles are getting. The Jews will not get more than the Gentiles simply because they were called first. The same is true of us today. We should not expect to get more from Christ than those who come to the church after us. Just because we have been the longest member of the church, or have served the most times on council, or donated the most amount of money, does not mean that we will receive a greater reward.
The workers hired later in the day may also represent those who come to Christ later in lives, thus Jesus is telling us that those who are converted as an adult are not inferior to those of us who have grown up in the church. If you have spent your whole life in right relationship to God, that is good. God has spared you some of the agonies of turning away from him, but that does not mean that you are going to get a better reward than someone who finally comes to Christ on their death bed.
God's economy is not like our economy. God does not pay special attention to those who place themselves above others. He does not notice those who, in the world's eyes, have worked the hardest for the kingdom. He is not required to reward someone simply because they have been an active member of the church 65 out of their 80 years. All too often we demand rewards above others because we think we deserve them.
Page 3: The vineyard owner gives them all what they need for survival.
The early workers demanded more money because they thought they deserved it. They saw what they others got, they saw when the other workers had arrived, but they figured they had done more for the owner, so they deserved more. This is not God's economy, and thank him for that. None of us have earned anything from God. None of the workers earned their day's work. None of the workers were owed that work by the owner of the vineyard. All of them were given a job by the master. All of them were taken in from the marketplace, where they were worried about their next meal, where they were worried about their families, where they were worried they would not be able to survive another day. All of them were approached by the master, and given what they needed. They needed a job, they needed work to do, they needed something to get them through the end of the day. This was given to them by the master. He saw their need, and he filled it. He had work to do, and he chose those workers to do it for him.
As the master waited for all of the workers at the gate, he looked out into the dying sunlight and breathed a sigh of relief. As the workers who came last began to approach him, they were extremely thankful. Their faces were full of joy and thanksgiving. They were so happy they were given what they needed for the day. They were not able to make much more than they needed day to day, and they had been very worried that they were going to have to return home with nothing for their families. They had stayed in the marketplace until there was only one hour left in the work day. They were beginning to dread going home again without having made any money. They could see the disappointment in their wives eyes as they entered the house without any food to eat. They could hear their children's hungry cries. They could feel the ache in their bellies which comes from having nothing to eat. They were afraid of the gathering dark. They could sense the end was near, and they were helpless to stop it. Then the master had strolled into the marketplace, he had spotted them immediately because everyone else had gone home, and the marketplace was empty. “Go, work in my vineyard,” he said. “I will pay you whatever is right.” They were elated. They now had the opportunity to get a little something to help them through the night. They never expected to be paid a whole day's wage. They never expected to get all they needed to make it through the gathering dark. They never expected to find someone so loving and generous.
The most beautiful words in this parable are at the end. As the early workers are complaining to the master about their pay, about how unfair the distribution was, the master says, “I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don't I have the right to do what I want with my money?” The owner has that right. He had the right to not pay anyone anything, but the owner chooses to give all of the workers what they need for the day. The early workers should be rejoicing that the late workers got what they needed. They should be happy that all those who got to work that day will be able to go home and fill the bellies of their children. They should rejoice with the other workers because of the master's generosity. They should be happy to serve such a wonderful master.
Page 4: Our heavenly father gives us what we need for salvation.
We should be happy to serve such a wonderful God. We have all been given the promise of salvation through Jesus Christ. We have all been given what we need to make it through the gathering darkness, to make it through death into eternal life with Christ. We were all waiting outside of God's love, outside of his covenant, until he came and found us, and gave us work in his vineyard.
If you are now out in the marketplace still. If you have not yet agreed to work for Christ. If you have not accepted him as your Lord and master, then consider this your call. God is calling you from the marketplace of religions. He wants you to come to him. He wants you to commit your life to him. He wants to give you the promises which Christians everywhere have received. He wants to give you the promise of salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ.
If you have accepted God's call, and are now working in his vineyard, whether you are young or old, new or long time Christian, God is reminding you that he has given you everything you need. He has given you all that is required for us to make it through the gathering darkness. He has given us the ability to face the night with strength. He has given us the ability to wait out the darkness, and cheer on the coming dawn. Though we were all outside of his vineyard, outside of his love, outside of his embrace, we have been accepted in, we have been given what we need, we have been given a new master, a kind a gracious master, one who does not live by the rules of the world but lives by his own rules. He does not repay us as we deserve. He repays us according to his love. He can do whatever he pleases with his money, and wonder of all wonders, he chooses to give it to us.
Let us Pray
Lord God, we thank you that you have not left us out in the loneliness of the marketplace. We thank you that you have called us to be your servants. We thank you for the opportunity to serve such a wonderful and gracious lord. Most of all lord, we thank you that you do not repay us according to what we deserve, but extend to us every mercy and pay us according to your love.