1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went.
“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
7 “ ‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.
“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’
9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
The last will be first and the first will be last – a fairly familiar refrain is you have been around Christians for any period of time. We trot this refrain out when we watch people push into a line or perhaps when someone asserts some right over our own.
In the parable we have read from Jesus today we can be confronted on a number of levels. Is Jesus advocating for unjust payment of wages to people? Am I worth more because I work more? Why do people who are ‘johnny come late-lies’ get the same treatment as others who have worked longer and harder!
One of my observations is that we live in a world of transactions – where almost everything we do is in the context of a transaction, payment (of one kind or another) for a service. Jesus is teaching the kingdom values around grace, that quality of unmerited favour, which flies in the face of western ideas of transaction and value. Another observation is that there is a clear appeal that the one in authority can make whatever rules they like – they have the authority – this also flies in the face of our supposed equalitarian approach to life where everyone gets a say, an equal say.
Jesus is asserting there is a King in the kingdom – and as such we pay homage to Him and His ways are quite different to our own. His kingdom is based in grace not transaction and His rules and authority are above all others.
I find myself challenged as I am caught in our transaction rich world, where grace is subservient to fairness!
Father, help each of us embrace Your kingdom as it truly is, not as we imagine it to be to serve us. May we embrace Your kingdom and You as King!
Written by Ps. Richard Botta