Jesus said to his disciples: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner going out at daybreak to hire workers for his vineyard. He made an agreement with the workers for one denarius a day, and sent them to his vineyard. Going out at about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market place and said to them, “You go to my vineyard too and I will give you a fair wage.” So they went. At about the sixth hour and again at about the ninth hour, he went out and did the same. Then at about the eleventh hour he went out and found more men standing round, and he said to them, “Why have you been standing here idle all day?” “Because no one has hired us” they answered. He said to them, “You go into my vineyard too.” In the evening, the owner of the vineyard said to his bailiff, “Call the workers and pay them their wages, starting with the last arrivals and ending with the first.” So those who were hired at about the eleventh hour came forward and received one denarius each. When the first came, they expected to get more, but they too received one denarius each. They took it, but grumbled at the landowner. “The men who came last” they said “have done only one hour, and you have treated them the same as us, though we have done a heavy day’s work in all the heat.” He answered one of them and said, “My friend, I am not being unjust to you; did we not agree on one denarius? Take your earnings and go. I choose to pay the last-comer as much as I pay you. Have I no right to do what I like with my own? Why be envious because I am generous?” Thus the last will be first, and the first, last.’Matthew 20:1-16
The Parable of the workers in the vineyard is one that many Christians find puzzling. On the surface it appears that Jesus is advocating a situation that many would consider to be unjust. Their view would be shaped by the notion of “equal work – equal pay”. It is important to remember, however, that the concepts of “equality” and “justice” do not mean that we treat all people in exactly the same way. On occasions, it is be necessary to give “more” to those who have “less” or to those who need more e.g. the disadvantaged.
As with many of the other parables, Jesus uses an ordinary social context as an allegory symbolising the Kingdom of Heaven . Just as the landowner calls workers to the vineyard, it is God who is forever calling his people to him, and ultimately the Kingdom of Heaven. Not all respond to this call, at least not immediately. Nor are all called at the same time.
Throughout Christian history, there are many examples of men and women who responded to God’s call relatively late in their lives. St Paul and St Augustine exemplify this. It is never too late to say “Yes” to God, however. In fact, what one often observes in those who discover Christ at some later point in their lives is a burning desire to serve him and share the joy of knowing him with others. They have an energy and passion which is not dissimilar to that of worker employed late in the day.
At the heart of this parable is the landowner’s question ‘why be envious because I am generous?’ God seeks the salvation and eternal happiness of all people. We should not allow ourselves to be judgemental of others believing that we deserve more than them. Rather, we should rejoice in their salvation as if it were our own. Too often we are consumed by petty jealousy. Too often we succumb to habitual piety and foolishly believe that we are more precious than others in God’s eyes. Too often we seek to be first rather than last.
If we are to be truly humble workers in the vineyard, who have said “Yes” to God’s call, then we will delight not only in our reward, but in the reward that is bestowed upon all of humanity. Furthermore we will call others to the vineyard so that they too might share in this great reward.
Director – Mission and Identity