“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.”
This is a well-known and well-loved parable of Jesus, although if we really took it seriously, one wonders whether we would still love it so much! In the parable, our human views of “fairness” are challenged, as are the premises on which much of human interaction takes place. In telling the story of the laborers in the vineyard – all of whom are paid a full day’s wage even though some of them worked only 1, 3, or 5 hours – Jesus invites us into a world where a person’s worth is set not by how much he/she produces, nor by how hard he/she works, but rather by a benevolent landowner who ascribes equal value to all. For hard workers, for the responsible ones, for those who always pull their own weight, this will, certainly at first, be scandalous and aggravating.
With whom in this passage do you most immediately identify?
Can you tell a contemporary story that matches this one? (If so, send it in! It might well make its way into the sermon!)
What was an instance in which you felt that you got “more than you deserved”? “less”?
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