For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (Think that’s fair?)
“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.”
We love our American quotes that seem to reflect fairness. God helps those who help themselves. All men are created equal. Supreme court justice Potter Stewart said: Fairness is what justice really is. Here are a two quotes from the other side of fairness. Author Oscar Wilde: Life is never fair, and perhaps it is a good thing for most of us that it is not. Finally Bill Gates had great insight when he said: Life is not fair; get used to it.
We don’t like it but life usually ain’t fair. Have you ever done your very, very best, only to see someone else walk off with the trophy? Have you ever been the one who came to work early in the morning and turned off the lights at night only to see someone else get the promotion? Have you ever seen a co-worker promoted because of charm or connections instead of hard work?
“It’s not FAY-YUR!” (“Fair” can be a two-syllable word.)
We believe in the American way. Our country was built on the premise that if you work hard, play by the rules, get a job, feed your family, love your spouse and children, … all will turn out all right. But no, how many times do people cheat, or live off welfare, or work the system, or abuse their bodies and those around them through addictions, or barely work, yet they are rewarded and seemingly happy? And hard-working people say, “It’s not FAY-YUR!” And, in many cases, they are right!
In Jesus’ Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, our scripture reading today, Jesus tells a story that doesn’t seem fair. This parable can make you angry. It’s one of those stories that makes me want to shout, “It’s not FAY-YUR!” The fact that the parable has God dishing out the unfairness makes it especially upsetting. I expect better from God! I expect justice. In fact I expect Him to honor the American way, actually I expect Him to honor the way that is ingrained in good men and women…but here we learn God’s way.
In this parable, the landowner, God, hires five groups of people:
– He hires one group early in the morning, and they work in the vineyard all day.
– He hires the second group a 9 a.m., and they work most of the day.
– He hires the third group at noon, and they work half a day.
– He hires the fourth group at 3 p.m., and they work only a few hours.
– Then he hires the last group at 5 p.m., and they work only an hour.
Fine! No problem! He has to get the grapes harvested! He has to do what he has to do.
Except that there is no hint in this parable that there is any desperate need to harvest the grapes. As the landowner goes about his business, he seems more concerned for the people standing around the labor hall than about his grapes. From the sound of it, he just wants everyone to have a job.
No problem there either! He is a nice man. We need more nice men. BUT!!! And this is big! BUT at the end of the day, the landowner does some strange things. First, when he pays the workers, he starts with the latecomers, the workers who came at 5 p.m, this goes against the culture of the time. He pays them a full day’s wages, even though they worked only an hour. Notice in our scripture that after the first group was promised a days wage, the remainder of the groups were promised to be paid what was “right.”
No complaints so far from the early people about the late people! The early workers sense that this is a generous man, and they smell a bonus coming their way. Next, the landowner pays the other groups, and each receives a full day’s pay. The all day workers see that it appears that the landowner feels that this is just and right. Surely after they have watched these others work less than them, they will get a bonus.
The early morning first hirees workers sweated in the sun the whole day long. They worked their hearts out for this man. They did everything that he asked of them. But when they come to the pay table, the landowner hands each of them a full day’s pay just like he promised and everything that they are due, but NO BONUS!!!
Jesus reports their response in highly cultivated language. According to him, these all-day workers say of the latecomers: “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!” I doubt that is a direct quote from the people. Jesus obviously cleaned up their language in this parable. They didn’t really say: “You have made them equal to us.” No, they didn’t. I am sure that their language was very colorful. I am guessing our language would be colorful. Admit it, as you sit there now the best, cleanest way to say how you might feel is…”It’s not FAY-YUR!”
But the landowner, who, in this parable, stands for God, took one of them aside and said: “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?”
There’s the point, isn’t it! OF COURSE, they are envious — envious and jealous and mad as, mad as they can be. So what does this story mean? In its original context, it meant that God was going to give equal access, equal rights, to Gentiles, those sinners. The Jewish people had thought of themselves as God’s people for many centuries, since the time of Abraham. They thought that they should live in a nice community, protected from the riff-raff, no Gentiles allowed. But this parable meant, for one thing, that God was planning to unlock the gate, to invite Gentiles to the party. That should make us glad, because most of us are Gentiles. This parable tells us that God loves us too.
But what does this parable mean for us today? Justice, right and wrong, fairness is in the eye of the beholder. There is Hatfield and McCoy justice, Republican justice, Democrat justice, gang justice, etc. Today we learn that God’s justice is based on grace. Jesus’ justice was based on grace and if we are to make every effort to be like Jesus, then grace should trump our personal concept of justice.
It means that our status with God isn’t determined by the number of years that we have served him, or the offices that we have held in the church, things done or do, or the money that we have given,or anything else. It means that we come to God with empty hands. It means that we are dependent on God’s grace, totally dependent on God’s grace.
In the parable, after all, the landowner was generous to all the workers, even those whom he hired early. Those crack-of-dawn workers didn’t have to stand around the unemployment line all day, wondering if anyone would hire them, wondering where their next denarius was coming from, wondering if they would be able to put food on the table. Yes, they sweated all day in the hot sun, but they didn’t have to sweat whether their children would go hungry that night. They STARTED the day secure in the knowledge that they were employed, that they were earning money, that they would be able to provide for their families.
So hiring workers early in the day was a generous act. It was a different kind of generosity than paying latecomers for a whole day’s work, but this landlord was generous to all groups. And so this parable promises God will be generous to all of us. Did you miss that when it was read?
So who are you in this story? Are you the working all day disciple of Jesus, who knows that it was only by God’s grace and His son Jesus that God’s payment awaits. Today’s parable is the promise of that. But don’t think that sometimes you can dictate to God how he applies His grace. If you work in the church harder compared to others, give to the church more than others, and do you expect a bonus from God compared to others.
Is your standard a comparison to others? God’s standard of giving your all to Him and not comparing is all that matters to God. God says, “Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you.” Jesus says if that’s the way you feel, comparing, then your heart is in the wrong place. God doesn’t honor prideful Christians.
Notice something else in the story, many people think God gave a hand out, actually God gives us a hand up. The landowner came and looked for people willing to work in the vineyard. If God gave hand outs the landowner would have just come and passed out denariuses. God looks for workers in the vineyard and to those who say “I will work for you God, I want you, I need you.” God’s grace, mercy and compassion never ceases. God gives you a hand up in life if you will work in His kingdom. Praise God.
If anyone here today needs a hand up, if anyone has not really surrendered to Jesus to work in his vineyard, it is not too late. God has grace, compassion, and mercy and guidance for you. The landowner got up 5 times and went to find people, God wants to find you. And we must welcome them into the vineyard to work beside us too. Praise God.
This parable is not about fairness, it is about how God has grace, mercy, and compassion for all those who work in the kingdom and direct their lives towards giving God everything they have because they love Jesus. For that you will be rewarded. God will be generous rather than fair. But for the grace of God, we all would not be able to stand before God.
One final question today is what happened the next day. We don’t know do we? I hope and pray that wherever you see yourself in this story, if you have been one of the angry ones who have worked all day and thought it wasn’t fair, I pray you would get over it and report for work and give it your all for the kingdom the next day. Will you give it your all for the kingdom every day?
And if you are one who has worked little or given little to date, realize today that by God’s grace, mercy, and compassion you get the same promise of God’s reward as the others, I pray that you will report for work in the kingdom tomorrow for the all day job and give it all to God just because of what He has given to you!