On Wednesday I had a routine appointment with the doctor and knowing how those things go, I brought along a book, believing there would be a fair amount of waiting involved. My book was sitting on an empty chair next to me and as he was leaving the room after the appointment, Dr. Moryata noticed the book and asked me what I was reading. I told him that I work in a church and said it was a book about the parables of Jesus. “Which one,” he asked. “The parable of the laborers in the vineyard,” I answered. “Tell me about it,” said the doctor. So I told him Jesus’ story — that a vineyard owner hired day laborers for his vineyard in the early morning, at mid-morning, at noon, at 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. and he paid all of them the same amount. Dr. Moryata quickly and rather indignantly replied, “Well, that’s not fair.”
If taken literally, the parable of the laborers in the vineyard would likely raise the hackles of any business person, whether in the corporate or not-for-profit world. This parable is certainly not about a fair wages or just compensation for work done. In fact, it does go against our sensibilities of what is just. Dr. Moryata was right – “no, it’s not fair!”
How unjust of the landowner not to give those who labored all day in the hot sun more than those who only worked one hour. How unfair of the land owner to treat each of the workers equally. So, what is going on here?
Jesus, neither a Marxist or a capitalist, is not offering us a lesson in corporate economics or management-labor practices. No, Jesus is an idealist and a pragmatist. In this parable, Jesus is once again teaching us a lesson about God’s graciousness by speaking of a vineyard owner who generously assisted some impoverished day laborers.
The parable is not about equity or proper disbursement of wages, but about gracious and undeserved gift. It is not about an economic exchange, but rather about a bestowing of grace and mercy to all.
Jesus leaves us with a question: can we learn to see through the eyes of God? Our ideas of right and wrong, of what is just and unjust, are not necessarily God’s ideas – and that is a very good thing. We are reminded in the parable that the tables are turned. When we look for equity, we are surprised to find generosity.
You and I are invited and challenged to look at where we see ourselves in Jesus’ parable. How is this text happening in your life and the world around you? How easily we can relate to the grumbling of the laborers who assumed that because they went to work early in the day, they would be paid more.
But wait, aren’t you, also, gracious and generous? Look at the funds we have collected to send to Texas for the relief of Hurricane Harry victims and the items we have brought in for shipping to the Florida Keys. And I’ll bet not a one of us prays, “Give me my daily bread.” No, we pray “Give us this day our daily bread.”
Jesus calls us to behave as often as we can just like the generous vineyard owner. In fact, let’s change the name of this parable. Let’s rename it. Let’s call it the parable of the Gracious Landowner. As often as we can let’s call upon our good angels who implore us to act as God acts.
Jesus’ focus – as usual – is both on “good news for the poor” and on “the responsibility of the rich.” Jesus, a Jew. Follows the Torah, and in Deuteronomy 5:11 we read “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.’”
Just as we heard in today’s lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures, God gives enough food for all; not too much that we can hoard, not too little that any should go hungry. What God gives is sufficient for the needs of all. It is up to us to share.
The vineyard owner and the workers within us must contend with one another and must ultimately find a way to live together.
This parable reminds us that God is a lousy bookkeeper and that we are invited – encouraged – to transform our pride, our envy, and our selfishness into joy, by admiring and celebrating God’s astounding generosity. Let’s go and do likewise! Amen.