Monday, September 22, 2014

The Generosity of the Vineyard Owner

20:1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius [1] a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4 and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ 5 So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. 6 And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ 8 And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ 9 And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 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.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ [2] 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.”
(Matthew 20:1-16 (ESV)
“You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.” Right, the word has the connotation of righteous, and just. It’s a peculiar point in the parable of the vineyard. The hiring practices of this man are strange. In fact, the man doesn’t seem to be hiring anyone at all. It is as if he doesn’t care about the work, near as much as he cares about these people looking for work. He tells them to go into the vineyard, I’ll give you whatever is right. So they went. They don’t ask about payment, they just go, taking the man at his word. They trust him. Same with all the people he hires after.
But the first people, the ones up in the town square ready to work at six A.M. He agrees with them for a denarius. I mean, it’s fun to speculate who these different groups are, what’s motivating them.  The bills that need to be paid, the mouths that need to be fed. Perhaps they are saving to buy their wives a special present for an upcoming anniversary. Maybe they are hoping to earn enough to buy a lamb to sacrifice in the temple as a dedication for a new born son, as Mary and Joseph did with Jesus, being poor and settled on turtle doves instead. A sacrifice foreshadowing his own death, the sacrifice with which he gives you righteousness, that which is right.
I mean, why is it that you work? What are your motivations? How much more real have those become when you were out of work? When the bills start coming in and you start wondering what you can afford or not afford. And sleepless nights tossing and turning, wondering when you might find a job to help get you out of the hole. Then you begin to realize what a privilege it is to work, especially if you love your job. The peace of mind a paycheck offers helps to keep your sanity in a world where it isn’t hard to see others with no job, poor and destitute.
A denarius, today would be a couple hundred dollars. The kind of pay that puts a smile on a teenager’s face as he contemplates Friday night with friends, or perhaps dinner with a date. Not bad pay for an adult either if it is steady. The kind of pay that keeps a man sane.
And perhaps now we see what a privilege it was for these men to be working, to be hired so early for a denarius. One wonders what the others thought. They showed up late to the market place. The chances of being hired slim, those looking for labor show up in the morning and look for those eager to work, disciplined to take advantage of the early morning day light, get things done before the heat of the sun slows the progress. When the vineyard owner comes looking for reinforcements at the third hour, they washed with relief. Any pay is better than no pay. At least they don’t have to show up in the empty handed at the end of the day. They understand what they are being given with a sigh of relief when the vineyard owner tells them, “Whatever is right I will give to you.” Those hired at the eleventh hour go to work without hesitation, glad to have the work, trusting that what is right will be given to them.

“What is right I will give you.” The work, the pay, the peace of mind, all was gift, and they went to work with joy. This is the kingdom of God. All of it gift. None of it deserved. We are given the work and with it righteousness. We are benefactors of the Lord’s generosity, the forgiveness of sins. The work itself given to us as gift, from a generous, loving and benevolent employer, and the righteousness he gives is more than we could ever earn, the righteousness of his Son, who died to give you his inheritance, crucified to make you coheirs of heaven. Such is the generosity of God. 

No comments: