In our passage for today, Matthew 20:1-16, we read ‘The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard’ which concludes with Jesus saying, “The last will be first, and the first will be last”. (20:16).
It’s a message which, for Jesus’ listeners, would have raised more than a few eyebrows because it cut across everyone’s understanding of fairness. Then again, so do the actions of the Landowner.
The Parable is set at the time of the grape harvest, and the owner of the Vineyard has gone to the market place, to hire labourers to help bring in the harvest.
It was where everyone who was looking for work gathered. They would arrive at sunrise and wait, in the hope that someone gave them a job.
First thing in the morning, the vineyard owner hires a group of men. The pay? One denarius a day. A good rate for an unskilled worker.
During the course of the day, the landowner makes repeated trips, each time hiring more workers.
Even with only an hour left of the working day there are still people waiting; they have been there all day, hoping for work, wanting to work; waiting for someone to offer them a job.
When asked why they were still there, they tell him “it’s because no one has hired us” (20:7). In other words, no one wanted them; but the Landowner did.
Come the end of the day and work over, it’s time to be paid. It came as no surprise that those who worked all day received their pay in full; a denarius, as agreed.
However, what did come as a surprise to them and, no doubt to us, is that Landowner gave everyone the same amount, even those who were hired last and worked only one hour.
No wonder those who had been grafting in the fields and had put in a full 12-hour shift were unhappy and grumbled; wouldn’t we too complain and say, “it’s not fair”.
But this parable has nothing to do with money, instead, it has everything to do with generosity. It points to the generous nature of the Landowner.
Those who worked all day were paid, in full, the agreed rate. There was no attempt to short-change them; it was a fair wage.
But, for the Landowner’s own reasons, whether it was because of the need of those hired later, or whatever, they too were paid the full day’s rate. He was exceedingly generous.
This is a parable that shows God’s generosity. We are blessed, but in different ways and according to our needs; and our needs change as our life circumstances change.
This is a parable that reminds us that God values us as highly as each other, regardless of how long we have travelled with him; whether that journey started today or stretches back for years.
This is a parable which shows that as the Landowner went out repeatedly to find workers, so God reaches out to all, again and again; welcoming all, surprising them with his generous grace. This is a parable that shows the reality of God’s amazing grace in action.
At times, we can feel that life is unfair, but in this parable, we see that God loves us equally, of that there is no doubt, however, the help He gives may not be the same. It depends on our needs at the time.
We know that we respond differently to the particular needs of the people we know; and so does God.
Jesus said, “The last will be first, and the first will be last”. A concept alien to the way the world works.
The world believes in “first come, first served”. In the kingdom of heaven, it’s more like “first, come to serve”
The way of the world is, ‘survival of the fittest’.The way of the world is everyone for themself. But it’s not the way God works; it’s not how the kingdom of heaven operates.
God’s way, the way the kingdom of heaven works is by God’s grace, freely and generously given. It’s grace in abundance. So, let us thank God for the blessing of His grace.
Let us continue in our work for the kingdom of heaven in humility, remembering at all times that God cares for us and values every one of us.
Then, as we thank God, perhaps ask ourselves, “how generous have we been in sharing God’s love with others”?
Creator God, by your word, you create, and by your breath, you give life. By your Word, you feed us and in your love you support us. You give us all we need, and still there is always more. You are generous beyond measure.
Strengthen us to live lives worthy to be called your people, where the last are first, and the first are last, and there is grace enough for all; and no one is excluded.
Loving Father, you invite us to extend your love for us to the world around us, to labour in your vineyard, and to care for others as deeply as we care for ourselves.
Help us reach out to others in your name and bring your healing word, your gentle touch and your embracing love to them.
Amen, and may the blessing of God, the love of Jesus Christ, and the presence of the Holy Spirit surround us and sustain us as we carry on His work.