Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost / September 21, 2008 / Resurrection Lutheran Church Text: Matthew 20 : 1 – 16 / Message by: Rev. Carol Kniseley / Title: When Evening Came
With our own Bethlehem Marketplace soon to become a reality, it shouldn’t be too hard for us to picture the scene that Matthew has just painted. It is set in the marketplace…the spot where everyone in town tends to gather because it is where life in the community plays itself out on a daily basis. Children are running through the streets and playing games…while the youth enjoy just hanging with their friends, much the way teenagers today enjoy hanging out at the mall.
Shoppers are out and about…squeezing the fruit, thumping the melons, and bartering with the local shop owners over their goods. And amid all the commotion and noise were those who simply stood idle…hoping to find work. Some stood in groups, talking to their friends, wondering what the day might bring. Others stood quietly contemplating their situation. No work meant no means of support for one’s family…not to mention…no food on the table. It was not a good situation to be in…under any circumstance.
“I have grapes that are ripe…and ready for picking! Come…anyone willing to work…I have a job for you this day!” came the unexpected cry of a man in need of workers for his vineyard. As the workers gathered around to hear what was expected of them, it was agreed by all that the going rate for a day’s work would be no less than one denarius, which was the average daily wage. With smiles on their faces…and eager to work…the workers departed for the vineyard while the dawn was still breaking. Matthew tells us that it was about 6 AM in the morning. And no, I can’t exactly relate.
Amazingly enough, the owner of the vineyard returned several more times throughout the day…again at 9 AM, then about Noon, and again around three o’clock…even returning just one hour before the end of the day to give anyone willing to work the opportunity to do so. Many went without even being told about the daily wage. Their only understanding from the landowner was that he would pay them (and I quote) “whatever is right”. I wonder how many of us would have been willing to work under the same understanding? Especially given today’s economic “situation”.
I love this next sentence: ‘When evening came…’all of the workers were called in from the vineyard to be paid. And being very intentional, those who were recruited last…were to be the first ones paid. Meaning…those who had worked in the vineyard for just one hour…received an entire day’s wage of one denarius. In fact we are told that every single worker…whether they worked for three hours or six or even an entire day…were all paid the same wage.
Now I ask you…does that seem fair? Imagine the confusion…the hurt…the rage that came over those who had spent the entire day out in the scorching heat…bearing the brunt of the labor…with now aching backs and soar knees?
The next words that we hear are very telling. In calling the person a “friend”, what the Gospel writer Matthew is really stating is that ‘you are wrong’ for being upset over what you have received. In other words, they had a contract that had been agreed upon by both parties at the very beginning of the day. Nothing had changed. The owner of the vineyard paid everyone exactly what they had coming to them…even to the dismay of the workers who had only worked one hour. Now those who had worked longer were envious, YES…because of HIS generosity.
Why did Jesus tell this parable? He told it in response to a question that the disciple Peter had asked: “Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Leave it to Peter to blurt out what every single one of us in the church has been dying to say on occasion…but didn’t have the guts to do so. Peter and the other disciples had given up their homes…their families…their jobs…and yes, even their stocks and bonds so to speak (also known as their “securities”).
Peter had given up his whole life for Jesus, and now he was beginning to wonder what he might receive in return. I am sure that none of us in the church can relate? Like the workers in the vineyard who had worked harder and longer than anyone else…they felt entitled to more pay because their time vested in “sweat equity” was greater than all the rest combined. In other words, just do the math. More hours worked equals more pay.
The thing is…God isn’t very good when it comes to crunching numbers. In truth, God is horrible when it comes to math. Two plus two doesn’t always add up to four. That is why when the workers in the vineyard saw that those who had worked for only one hour received an entire days wage…they naturally assumed that they were ‘entitled’ to receive much more. To their dismay…they assumed wrong. Entitlement is not a word that can be used when talking about the kingdom of God. Which is why so many in our society today simply ‘don’t get it’…when it comes to ‘getting’ what’s important to God.
Bottom line is there are no rankings in the kingdom of God. Nobody can claim to have deserved membership in the kingdom. And there is no ground for any to question the generous nature of God toward the undeserving. For the truth is…we are all undeserving of God’s abundant grace…are we not? Because as we confess every week…all have sinned…and all have fallen short of the glory of God. We have all missed the mark and there is not one thing that we can do to deserve God’s grace.
And that is why, like the owner of the vineyard, God will continue to seek us out. Time and time again, God will continue to call us back into the mission field…back into the work force…back into those places where life in the community plays itself out on a daily basis. Our calling then, is not to remain idle…but rather to be engaged in the building up of God’s kingdom.
Every day God gifts us with opportunities to work in his vineyard.
And every day…it’s up to us to respond in joyful praise.
Standing idle…working in the vineyard. By the grace of God, it’s a choice we’ve all been blessed to make.