Reading for the day (Sunday, September 24, 2017):
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
We’ve all heard the phrase, “Life isn’t fair.” And I think we all know this to be true, but even though we know this, we still can’t help ourselves from wanting things to be fair. We long for things to be fair. Don’t you hate it when you see people who get things that they haven’t worked for or earned? And of course, we want everyone to be paying their fair share of taxes; not getting out of their fair share because of some loop hole. No butting in line and no short cuts, right? People should only receive what they have worked hard for. So it is definitely unfair when people seem to just get things while barely lifting a figure to work for it. That’s not fair! That’s not just! We want fairness, we want justice. And this is why today’s parable that Jesus tells frustrates us and makes us mad.
How dare Jesus tell a parable that says no matter how much you work, or not work, you will ALL be rewarded the same. That’s not fair, and that certainly is not justice. Of course it isn’t fair when looking at this parable with money in mind. The landowner sets out in the morning (probably around 6:00 am) to hire workers to work in his vineyard for the day. He finds some and they agree to be paid $100 at the end of the day. The landowner still has work to be done. So he goes back out at 9:00 am and hires more workers. There still is more work to be done. And the landowner goes out again at noon, at 3:00 pm, and at 5:00 pm. Then at 6:00 pm, the work was done for the day and the hired hands come to collect their pay for the day. Those hired last are paid first, and they are each given a $100 bill. Ok, that’s fine. The landowner must have gotten a really good price on grapes at the local winery. This probably means more money for those who worked longer. Next to be compensated are the workers hired at 3:00 pm; given $100 as well. But you know, they only worked 3 hours as compared to 1 hour. Those hired at noon also are given $100. This is starting to get confusing, but maybe the extra pay doesn’t kick in until one works more than 6 hours. And then things get frustrating. The workers hired at 9:00 am are paid the same $100 for the day. And then the unthinkable happens, those hired at 6:00 am are paid the same as everyone else; even all of those who worked 3, 6, 9, and even 11 hours less than those hired early in the morning. This is maddening. What started off fine, turned into okay to confusing to frustrating to maddening. How could Jesus ever say, “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.”?
This all means that those of us who have followed Jesus our entire lives are going to receive the same as someone who near the end of their life decides to finally believe and follow Jesus. Like I said, maddening and unfair. That is of course as long as we look at this parable with money in mind.
What if we changed the perspective? What if instead of focusing on what the vineyard workers received (or didn’t receive), we focused on the landowner’s actions and motives. The landowner isn’t concerned about the wage, he’s got enough to go around. He’s more concerned about getting the work done. There’s got to be ample work in the vineyard because the landowner is obsessed with hiring every possible person he can find. The landowner is also generous that he overpays almost his entire workforce.
Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like this landowner who continues to go out and hire workers for his vineyard. The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. God is most concerned about the proclamation and sharing of the Gospel with the world. He doesn’t care how much someone as 6:00 am makes as compared to someone hired at 3:00 pm.
When we look at this parable by comparing the pay of the laborers, we’ve missed the mark. Instead, the landowner wants as many people involved as possible. And he is so generous that he’s willing to give people whatever they need. Our God is so generous that he willingly gives us the gifts of forgiveness, eternal life, and unconditional love no matter how long it took us to get to his vineyard. The important thing is that we are here, working, and we will receive a fair wage for our labor. And there are more laborers out there looking for work, who are longing for work. And yet we are focused more on what is considered fair.
We look at the world and rank people. Who’s first and who’s last, all for the sake of being fair. But who really is last? Who really is first? Jesus says, “the last will be first, and the first will be last.” And we so like to be first. But actually because of your sin; because of your strong desire to be fair, to be just, to be first in everything that you do, you are the one who is last. Your sin puts you into last place. And if you are in last place, who is in first? Well Jesus of course. Jesus, who was first in all of creation, who was in the beginning when God created the world. So Jesus is first, and we are last. But we really should continue reading beyond the appointed text to get a full understanding of this phrase…
“While Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and said to them on the way, See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified; and on the third day he will be raised.”
Jesus who was first before creation, made himself last, taking on all of your sins and bringing them to the cross; so that you, who were last, would be made first in the eyes of God. God sees you as first, not because of your sin, but because of Jesus. So yes, the last will be first, and the first will be last. You were last, but now you are first because of the cross of Christ. Amen.
© 2017 Anthony Christoffels. All rights reserved.