Are you ready to dive into this week’s topic? Sometimes I am not sure I am… I have been turning this scripture over in my mind. There are so many pieces calling out to me. So, here is what I am going to attempt: to follow God’s leading as I type today. We’ll see where that goes 🙂
[Unless of course you would prefer to come over. Then we can sit together, read the scripture, and discuss where we’re at and what God is saying to us today through this section of the Word. It seems that might be best, since as one blogger wrote of this parable, “This is one of those texts that powerfully illustrates that what we read out of a text is conditioned by what we bring to the text.”
I cannot guarantee this will speak to you today, because I don’t know what you bring to the discussion. But, if you wanted to come to my table we could talk it through together.
In the meantime, I will do my best, in written form, to follow what God has laid upon my heart. ]
I wasn’t surprised when this parable came to mind last week because it often does; it is very applicable, more than I’d imagined for a long time. I read a commentator say of this parable, “There is no reason whatsoever to go into this passage in great detail–the grammar and the vocabulary is all pretty much straightforward.” It isn’t the grammar or vocab that causes people to stumble over this parable, but the message itself. I distinctly remember several Bible studies focusing on this parable because the discussion elicited such a strong response from a few people in the room: anger, disbelief, frustration.
Kind of like the moment in the Princess Bride where the grandson says to his grandfather, “Y-you read that wrong… I’m telling you, you’re messing up the story, now get it right!” This parable can have us SURE we’ve read it wrong!
So, let’s get to the text:
The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard
20 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace 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 noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 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?’
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 five in the afternoon 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 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, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one 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.”
You likely get the basics of the story: people looking for work gather at the marketplace hoping to be hired (not too different from what still happens in many areas today). A landowner comes and hires workers in the morning for an agreed upon wage. Later the landowner repeatedly returns and hires more people with the agreement he’d pay what was “right.”
All is going good until the wages are given to the workers, starting with the last workers first. Here is where it all goes haywire: workers who only worked an hour, a few hours maybe, receive the FULL payment that the first of the morning workers were agreed to earn. Those early workers are SURE this isn’t FAIR.
(Back to The Princess Bride, the grandson is upset because what had just been read wasn’t “fair.” The grandfather says, “Well, who says life is fair? Where is that written? Life isn’t always fair.”)
AND that is where a bunch of people walk away from this parable angry because GOD is SUPPOSED to be FAIR!
That is where this parable really gets you in the gut sometimes, because here God doesn’t seem fair.
Jesus’ words for the landowner hit hard, “Friend, I am not being unfair to you… Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?”
Envious because I am generous
Last week I was working through how our expectations make it hard for us to be truly thankful. How, because of our perceptions, we can be unable to see the gifts of our Heavenly Father as good because they don’t fit the perfect picture we’ve worked up. Not that God’s gifts were ever anything but good and perfect… but that our expectations can skew our perception to the place that we cannot accept them as such.
And here we see that again… where expectation and perception turn the workers’ view of generosity into unfairness because of envy.
(People don’t often like it when they are told that they are being envious. And I’ve heard a few people give up on this parable at this point because of this… don’t give up. Hear the truth. I NEED to HEAR the TRUTH. I need the truth of this parable spoken to me. WE need the truth of this parable to work in us!)
Could it be that often our discontent with life, with God, is not that we’ve received anything less than what God promises us… BUT that when we see the greatness of God’s grace, mercy, and love worked in the lives of others we are ENVIOUS? Ouch. That is tough. With all my mental faculties I often want to argue against that being true. But, just as often, God speaks that it is EXACTLY the heart of it.
See, from all that I’ve read, many postulate that the landowner was already more than fair, generous even, to offer a denarius for a day’s work in the fields. At the least, a denarius was exactly the pay a day worker could expect. On the other end, one commentator stated it was a day’s wages for a Roman soldier, far more than an unskilled laborer could have hoped for that day waiting at the marketplace.
And, oh, how good and fair and more than generous has God been with me?!
It wasn’t until the wages were paid and EVERYONE received the same payment that the denarius seemed unfair and the workers who were hired first began to grumble against the landowner.
And, it is sad to say, that I often see my “lot in life” as less than fair when I see God’s generosity being given to others. Comparison… perception… expectation… they turn a generous God into a reason to grumble against His “unfairness”.
“Are you envious because I am generous?”
Those are TOUGH words, no way around that. But words we NEED to HEAR; words we NEED to HEED.
Times will come when we can skew God into being unfair. We need to train our hearts and minds to BELIEVE and TRUST that He is generous, loving and good. No longer allow envy, comparison, perception to distort truth and steal our joy!
There is something else jumping out from this passage to me today. Upon returning to the marketplace at the eleventh hour and finding still others standing around, the landowner asked, “Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?”
“Because no one has hired us,” they answered.
They waited all day long… waited to be hired. We could choose to look at this part and wonder, “Why didn’t they go do something else more useful than stand around all day? After a few hours it was clear that no one would hire them! Shouldn’t they have moved on to something else?”
But we’d have been wrong. With merely one hour of work remaining, the landowner DID hire them, because they were there waiting.
Here is what was jumping out at me today: Sometimes we feel like giving up, like it will never be OUR time. We’ve been like those workers at the marketplace, watching person, after person, after person be called away and hired for a job while we are left behind. And when it comes to the “kingdom of heaven” we see everyone else have a place and we’re still waiting to be needed. We don’t see our value, our place, our ministry or purpose within the body of Christ.
But because those workers were still there, the landowner could hire them, the landowner could be generous to them.
And, if that is you today, waiting for your purpose, hoping to be useful to the Kingdom, know that your waiting is not in vain. God has a plan, place, purpose and blessing for you!
Hey- if you’ve read this today and you have more questions… if you looked at the scripture differently… if what you brought to the table wasn’t addressed… well, I meant what I said, maybe you should come over and we can talk. Send me a message, email, call; it would be nice to talk with you directly!