Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor
The parable that we are looking at today from Jesus makes me squirm. I have never really cared for this parable. This could be for a number of reasons. First of all, I am a first child who has always believed that her baby brother got it much easier than I did. In my recollection, he was totally babied and handed everything. I still grumble when I think of what I think my parents have handed him over the years while I was never given such leeway or as much generosity in my humble opinion. Secondly, I value the fact that I work hard. I have always been someone who values getting to work early and staying late and getting things done off of the checklist. I have many times caught myself grumbling about those I think don’t work as much as I do. Shouldn’t I get the better compliments if I work harder? Lastly, I am a big advocate for economic justice. I believe that people should be paid and paid fairly for the work that they put in. I stand behind worker justice movements and join in the occasional boycott when economic justice is not happening. I believe in the collective voice making things right.
And this parable stands in the way of all of that.
This is not a parable about fairness. God fully believe in economic justice but this is not a parable about economic justice. This is not a parable fully about our whining or our justifications or even our labor practices. This is not a parable to shame us about our feelings towards others (although we will notice that our neighbors deserve our respect as well).
This is a parable to remind us that God is turning the world upside down. God’s kingdom is what is best for all people. The emphasis of the parable is actually centered around the generosity of the vineyard owner who pays all of his laborers what they need to provide for their families, no matter how many hours they worked. They all receive a day’s wages.
This is a parable about the kingdom of God. It turns out that God really isn’t fair when it comes to generosity and abundance. God does not play by our rules or our whining. God does not give us what we deserve (Thank God!). Instead, God gives us an abundance of love, grace and mercy. Each of the laborers woke up with out a job that morning. Each one of them was dependent on the vineyard owner that day. Each one of them was given what they needed to succeed. We all start as human in very real ways. We roll out of bed, dependent on God’s abundance and grace. Turns out that God’s economy is not just about fairness, it goes way beyond that in order to create the kingdom of God here on earth and we all benefit from that generosity.
Quotes of the week
“You make all kinds of mistakes, but as long as you are generous and true and also fierce, you cannot hurt the world or even seriously distress her.” ― Winston S. Churchill
“Little by little we human beings are confronted with situations that give us more and more clues that we are not perfect. ” ― Fred Rogers
“Rest in the knowledge that God is both abundantly gracious and ridiculously generous.”
― Jared Brock, A Year of Living Prayerfully: How a Curious Traveler Met the Pope, Walked on Coals, Danced with Rabbis, and Revived His Prayer Life
“The older I get, the more I meet people, the more convinced I am that we must only work on ourselves, to grow in grace. The only thing we can do about people is to love them.” ― Dorothy Day
“The world isn’t fair, Calvin.”
“I know Dad, but why isn’t it ever unfair in my favor?” ― Bill Watterson, The Essential Calvin and Hobbes: A Calvin and Hobbes Treasury
Matthew 20:1-16 (NRSV) For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 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.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.
Questions for the Week
What do you think about this parable? What does it reveal about you?
Have you been in a situation where you didn’t things where handled with fairness? What did you do?
If you were to write this parable for modern times what would the scenario be?