“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.”
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
20For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard.
2And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
3And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
4And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way.
5Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise.
6And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle?
7They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive.
8So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first.
9And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny.
10But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny.
11And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house,
12Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.
13But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?
14Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee.
15Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?
16So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.
Parables. Always difficult, with multiple understandings possible.
Why were so many working men standing around the marketplace? High unemployment, seasonal unemployment. It may have been both—seasonal related to agricultural, permanent unemployment related to Roman occupation.
We don’t know if a denarius was a fair wage for 12 hours in the vineyard. The work was very hot, the sun was hot and persistent. It also must have been a very large vineyard to need so many men to work it, The ‘householder’ or ‘landowner’ was wealthy to own more land than was needed for his own family’s food, so he was a capitalist landowner—in it for the money, rather than a subsistence peasant whose first goal was to feed his family with any excess going to market.
But the primary point of the parable is that the Kingdom of heaven is like …..paying laborers in a way that doesn’t make sense to us. Everyone gets paid, no matter how long they work!
If the first laborers were paid fairly, the last laborers, who only worked ¼ of what the first laborers were paid, were overpaid.
The first laborers complain, but the ‘landowner’ doesn’t agree. He thinks he has paid everyone fairly.
We’re talking here about ‘the kingdom of heaven’ which is almost synonymous with ‘the kingdom of God’, and we have to try to understand this parable from the standpoint of God.
If you decided today to make love of God your first priority, what would you expect to receive in return? What is fair ‘pay’ for you becoming a disciple of God, like Jesus, at this point in your life.
But Jesus and the Bible generally proclaim that when you live a life with God, you receive unlimited forgiveness, unlimited love, unlimited life. God is like that—he is ‘unlimited’ or infinite, and we have no real idea how to understand that infinity.
But if you’re thinking of infinity, what is ½ of infinity? It is also infinity isn’t it? So, an infinite God who gives infinite love cannot ‘pay out’ less than an infinite amount of love—partial love and forgiveness, and partial unconditional forgiveness don’t work, do they?
We had the same lesson last when we talked of ‘conditional forgiveness’. It doesn’t work logically, it doesn’t make sense. Forgiveness which depends upon the repentance of the wrongdoer is not true forgiveness, because it is based upon your expectations that the wrongdoer must do something to earn forgiveness. God however gives us forgiveness especially when we really don’t deserve it, and so we have to give forgiveness to all, even when they don’t deserve it.
So, continuing the parable of ‘the kingdom of heaven is like….’, we all get the full measure of God’s love, God’s forgiveness regardless of whether we came to the metaphorical vineyard early, or late. We all get the full measure from God because God is an infinite God.
In the vineyard example the first laborers were upset at the last laborers, and coveted their relatively easy earnings. Wouldn’t we all?
But in God’s calculations it doesn’t matter whether we came early or late, and it may take us so learning to understand that we should not resent either the first laborers who seem to have an arrogant attitude, or the last laborers who seem to think they gotten some rewards unfairly easily. Many people claim this story relates to church life, since the older, ‘first’ Christians in a church sometimes feel they have status or position because of their longevity living a life with God. But BEWARE!
As well, the last laborers feel they have been treated with favoritism or priority, but this also in error. BEWARE!
We should also note that whatever we think about doing right according to the rules of the world—coveting wealth, cultivating greed, cultivating covetousness, these are all wrong.
In the kingdom, the first will be last, the last will be first. We hear this time and again in the voice of Jesus. The kingdom is upside-down, and everything we find prestigious is not prestigious in the kingdom. Whoever or whatever we see as important, or exalted, or worthy among us will not be so in the kingdom. Instead, those who do good in secret, and live and anonymous caring, giving life will be exalted by God and is a disciple of Jesus. You cannot be wealthy, powerful, well-known and respected and also be a disciple of Jesus.
I want to talk more about this with each of you in the weeks to come, but this parable is at the core and heart of Jesus’ message and ministry, and key to our own understanding and discipleship.