Pastor Michael Frye:
Jesus’ parable in our Gospel today is about as close to the reality in that day as you can get.
The grape harvest in Palestine occurred toward the end of September, and there was a very narrow window before the rains would fall and any unharvested grapes would spoil.
Very often, owners of the vineyard would call for as many laborers as he could get in order to gather all the grapes.
Men did gather in the market place to await their moment to be hired to do an honest day’s work, and they would wait all day if they had to.
The day’s wage, a denarius, was just barely enough for the laborer to put food on the table for his family for one day.
If a laborer worked for only part of the day he could certainly expect to draw less than the day’s wage.
The work day was from 6am until 6pm, so the hours mentioned in the parable were 6am, 9am, noon, 3pm and 5pm.
The parable would have caused no problem for those listening until it came to the laborers’ collecting their wages for the day.
Jesus was very shrewd in the way he set this story up.
The owner began by paying the workers according to the number of hours they worked, beginning with the least first.
What would you think if you had been the laborers who worked the full 12-hour shift and witnessed those who had worked for an hour receiving the full days wage?
Probably – “Wow! We have a really generous man.
If those who worked an hour got a denarius, just think what he might give to us who worked the full day!”
They would have thought they hit the jackpot.
In his story, they all got paid the same… a day’s wage.
Then, here it came… those who worked the longest were livid over the disparity and complained vehemently.
But the owner stood his ground, “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?”
How could anyone listening to Jesus’ story not be puzzled by this?
But, it does make sense doesn’t it?
No one could take home less than that, or they would have failed to provide for their family’s daily needs.
The question is, exactly what was the meaning Jesus intended for his audience, especially his disciples?
It seems logical that because Jesus knew he would soon be killed, he was making an effort to prepare his disciples to go on without him.
If they were going to make it in the world, they would have to learn to be generous and gracious to everyone who they brought into the infant church, no matter who they were, where they came from, or how late they were heeding the call to follow Jesus.
Neither would the disciples be able to afford to reap any special rewards or benefits just because they were the first to respond to Jesus’ call.
They would have to set the example for all to follow, and it certainly wouldn’t be an example that anyone had ever seen before: “So the last will be first, and the first will be last?”
What kind of logic is that?
It was true for the Jews then, and it is true for Christians in the church today.
Some feel that because they have been members of the fellowship for a long time, they outrank those who follow later, especially in making policy and defining what ministry will look like in their congregation.
They might come to resent that a new generation of believers may have a different understanding of how the church could minister in the world.
A church that is open to the thoughts and ideas of those who are new to the faith may begin to see the value in compromise and in sharing what they know so that their collaboration can bring about new and refreshing ways to minister in Christ’s name.
A good question for us to ask ourselves as Christ’s disciples today is:
“What are my expectations of God?
“Do I expect God to treat me differently from other people, especially those who view the world differently, or those who don’t have the life’s experiences that I have?
“Do I expect God to give me more blessings because I am so faithful to him.
“Or, do I seize opportunities to bring God’s blessings to others whose lives may not be as fulfilling or grace-filled as my own.”
God’s generosity transcends anything that you or I could ever imagine.
God does not see rank or privilege as deserving any more than he would freely give to anyone else in this world.
With God, it isn’t about the amount of service one gives in his name; it is about the love that one shows in the process.
An individual who has few possessions and chooses to share a large portion of what little he has is considered to be just as generous to God as one who has much and can afford to give greatly.
Jesus knew that his disciples would be called upon to give all that they had (friends, family, home, personal possessions) in order to follow him and do God’s will.
Jesus’ lesson for the disciples was that they should never begrudge anyone in their ministry who chose to follow Jesus–no matter how late, no matter how little they may have to give, no matter their family or ethnic background.
In his commentary on this parable, William Barclay commented: “We cannot earn what God gives us; we cannot deserve it; what God gives us is given out of the goodness of his heart; what God gives us is not pay, but a gift; not a reward, but a grace.”
Therefore, the great lesson you and I can gain from all this is that the Christian servant never asks “What do I get for my service?”
The Christian does God’s work for the joy of serving God and serving others on God’s behalf.
“The last will be first, and the first will be last?”
What else are we to expect from a God whose Son generously gave his own life so that others may receive the benefits of a gracious and loving God?