The Labourers in the Vineyard
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the labourers 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 labourers 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.”
Live long and prosper.
Those immortal words with which Leonard Nimoy, much loved Mr Spock of StarTrek fame signed off on life: Live long and prosper.
Isn't that what most of us look for in life - a long and prosperous life?
A life filled with meaning.
The kind of life that huge swathes of our society today are denied.
So much of a person's value is equated with possession, with lifestyle, with occupation, with status.
And when so many in our communities struggle to find work, struggle to put food on the table,
as the need for food banks and homeless charities grows ever greater, that ability to live long and prosper is diminished.
In our gospel parable this morning, we find folk looking for some kind of meaning in life.
Looking to be chosen to work.
Looking for a fair days wage for a fair days work.
In Jesus' story, some folk were hired in the early morning and set to work.
Some were hired a bit later in the day.
And some later still.
But, when it was time to pay the labourers for their work, everyone received the same wage.
So those who had worked all day received the same as those who had only worked an hour.
Of course those who had put in more hours were outraged.
And that could have been avoided.
By all accounts, the landowner was affluent enough to give the workers he didn't hire in the early morning a handout.
He chose, instead, to give them dignity - AND a living wage.
They were glad to be chosen.
And would have been happy with a proportionate wage.
But they got much more than they could have imagined.
They had the dignity of being employed and of being well rewarded.
We can celebrate their good fortune even as we are scandalised with those who worked a full day.
The trouble was not that those who worked a full day were cheated.
They got the reward they had been promised.
But, when they compared what they received with what others received, that's when it became a problem.
And that's something most of us do often.
Compare ourselves with others.
And, when we compare, we also judge.
We judge whether others are more or less deserving than us.
And though we might actually be doing OK.
Though we might actually be very fortunate.
When we compare ourselves to others, others whom we judge as being less deserving, yet who seem better off than us, we feel hard done by.
In Jesus' parable, those who'd worked all day in the vineyard decided that those who hadn't been there as long as they had didn't deserve to be paid the same as them - even though they got what they were due.
The workers who were brought to the vineyard early felt that being involved longer than others gave them more entitlement.
And they resented it when folk were brought to work in the vineyard later and received the same reward.
Does that sound familiar?
Does that sound like something that might happen in our church community?
Those who have worked here all their days receive the same reward as those who have just started.
God welcomes all.
God values all.
God promises all the same reward.
And so we can turn this parable into an allegory.
And work out where on the scale of the deserving we would place ourselves.
But, along with the story of Leonard Nimoy's death this weekend, another story was doing the rounds.
The story of a dress.
What colour does the dress appear to you?
Who can see white and gold?
Who can see blue and black?
This bizarre story was filling up folks news feeds because folk could not agree on the colour.
And there were all sorts of arguments and explanations.
Here is another picture of the dress.
And so, two people, looking at the same image, see vastly different things.
We can view Jesus' parable this morning from vastly different perspectives.
From the perspective of the labourers, all of whom were treated equally, but some more equally than others.
We might be the ones resenting those who came late.
Or we might be congratulating ourselves on having been well rewarded for little effort.
Or we can view this parable from the perspective of the landowner.
Who chose to be generous.
Who chose to give all the labourers the same reward, no matter how long they worked.
Who saw folk who needed to know that they were valued - every bit as much as others.
Who restored self esteem.
When we view it from the perspective of the landowner.
When we appreciate the generosity he showed, the dignity he gave and the right he had to make those choices.
It helps us to be less judgmental.
To be less outraged.
Looking at the parable from the landowners perspective takes us out of making comparisons.
And helps us appreciate the nature of grace.
The grace of one who is generous to all.
None of us are any more - or less - deserving than others.
God does not judge us by time served.
The grace of God is not something we've earned.
It is a gift that God gives, because God is God.
And it is in the nature of God to be generous.
Let's ask ourselves this morning:
Can we take our place at Christ's table, knowing ourselves all equally welcome?
And can we make space for others, those who have worked for God for some time, and those who have found their way here more recently?
Can we come to the table knowing that God values each of us.
And offers all of us unlimited grace, ours for the taking.
The kingdom of heaven is like...
May we all live long, prosper - and inspire others around us to do the same