“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers 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 laborers 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.”
********** Don’t be jealous of each other. I think
that is a first-glance reasonable interpretation of this passage. At
least, that is the interpretation I was taught.
But don't you think it’s reasonable that the workers who were hired first
complained? And the last workers... how do you think they responded when
they saw that they got the same pay as those who were there all day working
their butts off?
It is unfair- and it’s unfair because we have learned this isn’t how the
In our society, we get paid for what we do- and the harder we work...
theoretically, the more we are supposed to receive. I don’t want to work all
day in the vineyard and my coworker comes in for only an hour at the end of the
day and we both get the same pay-
Of course it's great news for me if I'm the one coming in late- If I'm the 5 o
clock worker- woo hoo- big payoff for doing almost nothing! If I'm the
latecomer, I'm wishing the world was like this parable... I can sleep in,
lounge most of the day, show up for work at 5pm and before I get time to even
pick a grape, the whistle blows and I get my check. I'm in!
But, as I look closer, I see that this parable is not about our society… it's
about the Kingdom of Heaven - and as we mentioned last week, when Jesus used
the words Kingdom of Heaven, he was speaking of how we are supposed to treat each other...
And the assumption is, that those practicing Kingdom of Heaven type thinking… (better known
as the church,) are different than the rest of the world. In the church, people
are supposed to be nicer, and treat each other better, and not judge, and
include everybody, regardless of gender or race or sexual orientation, gender
identity or income…
But if that were true, than this
parable would make sense to us- we wouldn’t have to explain it.
It doesn’t make sense, because sadly,
even in the church, we have put people into categories, much like the workers-
and we are the ones who judge which category folks fit in. After all,
people in the community of faith need to pull their weight, physically, or
financially or even spiritually… and we don’t like it when some people are doing all the work, and some people are getting a free ride… well, most of the time…
There are a couple of exceptions...
We don’t seem to mind very much the ones we can take perpetually take care of… we like having
representatives of the blind and the weak in our community. We don’t mind
helping out the ones who can’t care for themselves, because it makes us feel
good about ourselves when we do. We get to experience those wonderful feelings
of superiority when we help someone, and help them, and help them... to have
the luxury of choosing when to extend ourselves and when not to lend a hand...
In fact, we don’t mind being the one to do everything in the church,
especially when we can work by ourselves, or lead something, because then we
can see that our hard work is paying off… and again, we can feel good about
ourselves because of what we do.
But I want you to think for a moment about that. (Feeling good about what
we do) It’s not that feeling good about ourselves is wrong. It’s healthy that we carry a sense of accomplishment when we are able to use our
gifts to serve- and helping people is what we are supposed to be doing-
standing up for those who are oppressed, or marginalized- that's our
business. For example: -We're commemorating the
anniversary of the March on Washington this week- and it's something to feel
good about. -We have a representative for NJ Marriage Equality at our church this morning
to gather support for the legalization of same sex marriage. So we have a chance
to stand up for our brothers and sisters in the LGBT community by contacting
our legislators and letting them know that equality is important to us...taking a stand is something to feel good
about. -Stocking our food bank- picking up a few extra items at the grocery store
and bringing them to church so the hungry in our community can have it just a
little easier... that's something to feel good about. There are a hundred ways to help- and helping
makes us feel good about what we've done... So it's not a bad thing to feel good...
The problem comes in when we measure our value in works- especially
works in the church, (spiritual works.) When we fall under the assumption that
when we have worked harder, or done MORE (again, physically, financially or
spiritually) that we have somehow increased our value in God's eyes. We
sometimes feel that if we are not “doing” anything productive, that we are
getting a free ride- that we are taking and not ‘giving back’- and because of
our world model, we are therefore not a valuable asset to the Kingdom of
But Jesus says we are valuable, even without doing the work! This is a
case of self esteem verses Christ esteem.
And if we want to really get down to the truth,it is not really that we want to be worth more than others.
We want to be “worth” period. So, we try to earn our worth, because it is
certainly too unbelievable to think that we could be worth something just by
existing… just by being... that’s ridiculous… right? Because growing up, we are
taught, (whether you grew up in a healthy “normal” family, or in a
dysfunctional one), that we can’t just do ‘nothing’ and be accepted that
In fact, I will go out on a limb and say that many of us grew up feeling like
our very existence caused others to have to work harder just to take care of
us. That… love you or not… your parents, or the ones who cared for you,
had to make sacrifices for you. That it cost money to raise you, time to
care for you, and hopefully what was invested in you…. Notice that word, invested… in you, would pay off in the
end. That's what makes for proud parents!
How many of us, for one reason or another,
have come up just shy of that "proud-parent-pat-on-the-back?"How many of us, for one reason or another,
didn't turn out like Mom and Dad had hoped and dreamed we would? Or, worse, turned out to
be a disappointment? That being who you are wasn't good enough?(I'll leave that for you to ponder...)
But even in the most loving situation, most
of us learn very early that we need to prove our right to exist, even if it falls
under the category of "learning responsibility," It's not a bad thing
to teach children to be responsible, giving members of the family, and to have
expectations that they will become productive members of society... but
sometimes as children, we get mixed messages.We hear "I love you", but then we see the look of
disappointment or even receive punishment when we fall short of producing...
when we fall short of doing. And the fear of course, is that if our
children can't do anything... or if we
can’t DO anything… then we will become like the blind and weak in our
community... dependent on others... burden on society… or on family… or on the
So if we were socialized to prove our worth,
or even our right to be here… then it is natural that we would want our work to
“stand out” from other people; to put ourselves higher than other people. We
compete with each other and watch what the other has, and make sure we get
what's coming to us for the work we do, and
make sure it's more than the other guy who did less... and we do it to affirm what
we've learned about ourselves… that we are worth what we do.... or maybe do
cover up what we fear about ourselves... that maybe deep down we know we are
worthless if we don’t DO.
But what happens next is even worse… We project all of that on to God. We
perceive God as a deity who measures our worth based on production.We convince ourselves that we have to keep doing,
in order to keep being desirable to God. To prove that God didn’t make a
mistake in choosing us- in inviting us… to prove our worth to God…because if we
are non-productive, we believe, then surely we also become a burden to God- the
free ride… the blind and weak… the one God has to always take care of… the child
who God invested in but it didn’t pay off.
But again... Jesus says, you have immeasurable worth and you are valuable without doing anything… without having to work to
prove your right to be here, without having to even look at someone else's
worth, because we are all exactly the same. We are all equally valuable in God’s eyes.
The landowner, if you notice, didn’t go out and try to find people who looked
like they might be good workers. He went out and invited, and invited and
invited… people in the marketplace, people in the square… even people who were
just standing around doing nothing! It wasn't based on what you could do- it
was based on the fact that you are! God
desired you before you did anything at all, and that desire doesn’t diminish whether
you do anything or not!
In fact, when we see ourselves as valuable- when we realize that we are
acceptable to God not for what we do, but simply because we exist… that’s when
we end up doing more than we ever thought we could for God.
But getting to the place where we can see ourselves that way is not easy.
That’s where the ‘working in the vineyard’ metaphor comes into play. It
is a lot of work not to look at others and use them as a
measuring stick for your own worth.
And the reason it's such hard work is because every day we receive the exact
opposite message from the world we live in- and we choose to either listen to
that message, or filter through and listen to the one we know to be true in
And that’s where the rest of the workers come in. There is a reason why the
landowner invited and invited and invited. I believe it is so we could
encourage each other and be part of the counter message of truth. So we
can help each other recognize our value and our worth in Christ- recognizing we
are all in the vineyard together… so we don't buy into the world messages, not
for ourselves, and not for each other. And that means looking at “us”
differently. It means seeing everyone as valuable- everyone as equal- regardless
of what or how much we do... or give... or pray...
And this is not a new idea- and really, it
comes right down to looking at what we
think is fair, and then throwing that out the window...
Because when it comes right down to it… we are all, the 5 o clock worker.
We all showed up late.The only one who
was here in the beginning, the only one deserving of a full wage, if you will, was Christ. Christ was the one hired at
dawn- and actually, Christ has already done the vineyard work for us, do you
see that? And because of him, we all receive the grace we didn’t work for, and
can’t pay for. And he did it for each of us, not because he expects us to
live up to his investment in us... rather simply because he loves us… simply
because he created us… simply because we exist. And there is no mixed
message in that….