SCRIPTUREREADING: Genesis 31,32 Matthew 20 1-16
Today’s New Testament reading is the last parable Jesus gives before going to Jerusalem for His final visit. In Jerusalem he will suffer and ultimately die for our sins. What will be the subject of his last parable? Not surprisingly, it is a story that is timeless and universal. He teaches about workers in a vineyard who don’t feel they are being treated fairly.
The story is simple. Jesus tells it and then seemingly changes the subject and begins to detail events that will eventually lead to his death. I have sometimes identified with the disciples who scratched their heads, wondering what was the real meaning behind the story.
Let’s take a closer look at the text. The landowner goes out early in the morning to hire people to work in his vineyard. The first hires went to the field with the promise of a denarius for a day’s work. Other hires were made at the third and sixth hours of the day with a promise that they would receive “whatever is right.” Again, the landowner found others late in the evening whom he hired. At day’s end, every worker was paid what he had agreed to work for–a denarius.
Instead of happily taking their paychecks and going home, they compared their earnings. What a perfect setup for a labor dispute! The all-day workers were incensed that those hired at the eleventh hour received the same compensation. “That’s not fair,” they exclaimed as they returned to the landlord.
Then look as his answer, “Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t I pay you what you agree to work for? Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money?”
As the story come into clearer focus, we readily see that the story is God speaking to all of humanity; a humanity that has never been satisfied with what it has been given. The problem is as old as the Garden of Eden, and as new as the din of political rhetoric swirling about us. I suspect that the idea of fairnesss being promised by presidential candidates will never satisfy the thirst of the populace for “more.”
My thoughts on this parable evoked a scene from our early parenting days. Our second son was beginning to speak his first words. Of course the first two were what most children say, ‘ma ma’ and ‘da da’, but what would come next? The moment arrived unexpectedly one day while he was being spoon fed in his high chair. As his mother pulled away his empty spoon to reload it, he seemly couldn’t wait. “More!” he demanded.
Adam and Eve had it all—childbirth without pain, productive fields without toil” and everlasting life, yet they yielded to the temptation of wanting more. When Eve saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food, and pleasing to the eye and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.” Her husband joined her in this infamous plot.
The Old Testament side of our reading for the day reveals Jacob freeing himself from years of serving his father-in-law. The sentiment he expressed to Laban was, “You know how much work I have done for you. When may I do something for my own household?” He was really saying, “I deserve it. I want more.”
Later in the development of Israel, the people stand before their godly leader, Samuel. “Give us a king like other nations,” they complained. After apprising the nation of all of the consequences of such a request, they got their way, and the rest is history. The government of God was not enough for them. They wanted more.
As we continue reading Matthew 20. we see another example of someone wanting more. Being close disciples of Jesus was not enough for the mother of James and John. She asked for special treatment for them. They deserved it. “Could one son be on your right and the other on your left when you come into your Kingdom?” she asked.
So where does this discussion find us? I wonder if we spend too much time looking on our own things, our money, our holdings, our future security. Instead, I am challenged to look up at the generosity of the landowner (Jesus) who did not ask for more. He unselfishly faced the pain of the cross. When He was offered relief, He refused, accepting the wages to which He had agreed.