Laborers in the Vineyard
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. When he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the market place; and to those he said, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ And so they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did the same thing. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing around; and he *said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day long?’ They *said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He *said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’
“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard *said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last group to the first.’ When those hired about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius. When those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.’ But he answered and said to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’ So the last shall be first, and the first last.”
Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons, bowing down and making a request of Him. And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She *said to Him, “Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left.” But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They *said to Him, “We are able.” He *said to them, “My cup you shall drink; but to sit on My right and on My left, this is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father.”
And hearing this, the ten became indignant with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
The parable of the laborers in the vineyard is a profound lesson in the dynamics of life under grace. One thing that I think is important to notice, is that in this parable it is considered a blessing among all concerned to get to work. Standing around doing nothing is not simply wrong -more importantly, it is undesirable. Grace is not a license to loose living – it is a summons to action! If you have been through the despair of long-term unemployment, you know that it is not just the lack of money that gets to you. It is the idleness, the feeling of uselessness. Moralism has the effect of stripping us of the authority to act. It measures you and decides whether or not you are qualified to join the effort. Grace says, even though it is late in the day for you, join the effort. Isn’t that what we really want? We want to exercise our gifts, we want to be a meaningful and active part of Christ’s body. No one really wants be a part of an organization as a spectator. We want to be a real part, we want to belong. The action of the authority figure in this parable offered two kinds of blessing: the summons to work, and reward based upon an unreasonable level of generosity. The payment, even for those who labored all day, was not linked to their work. It was linked to the generosity of the landowner. So, not only does grace summon us to join the effort despite the unlikely lateness in the day, but it rewards in a way that is completely untethered from the idea of merit or earning. In some cases it may appear that blessing is tied to effort, but this is not true. All are equally rewarded and lavished with eternal life, whether the person served humbly for a lifetime or was converted on their deathbed. We are summoned to a wonderful work regardless of our age or qualification, and we are rewarded handsomely according to the riches and kindness of God regardless of how much work we accomplished!
But the mother of the sons of Zebedee and the other disciples did not catch this. They wanted to measure their commitment and sacrifice, and they wanted to secure an appropriate reward. So Jesus interpreted the parable of the landowner to them: “whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant.” Their reward is the work, and any further reward is predetermined by God’s gift, not by the degree of effort they put in. The mother here wants to drag Jesus and the disciples back into the mindset of the incredulous vineyard workers who contested the landowner’s generosity, but Jesus brings ti right back around to life in the gift culture of heaven. Grace induces us to great sacrifice and grants great reward, but the two are not joined. All things in the kingdom of God, including God’s actions, are given as a gift freely from the heart as expressions of love untethered from the limitations of merit and measure.
So we can all look forward to the great reward of eternal life and blessing, and we can from the gift of God step into a humble life of the service to which the love and grace of God calls us. People will be scandalized by this but their lack of understanding and their need to tether our blessing to our scorecard and our qualifications to our ability to join the work are based on a fundamental belief in the Lordship of the law, not faith in Christ. We can expect that in the end, they will be rebuked and unwarranted lavish scandalous blessing will prevail. you may be a sinning idiot who is coming very late to the game, but God bids you to come and join the effort, and your reward will be far far greater than anything you could ever imagine. Don’t listen to the bickering of others, the word of Christ is what will prevail over you.