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 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?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Some worked a full shift – twelve hours. Some worked nine hours. Some six and three. And some were called when there was only one hour of work left. By the time they got to the vineyard, all the other workers were putting the spades and shovels and buckets away because it was time to get paid. But it didn’t matter when the laborers got to the vineyard. They all received the same – one denarius, one full day’s wage.
This is not the way the world works, and it shouldn’t be the way the world works. Even the Scriptures say this isn’t how this world works, “If anyone is unwilling to work, do not let him eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). Wherever this is tried in a business or forced through politics, it fails. Businesses and governments cannot afford to pay people who don’t work.
If people work one hour and get paid as much as those who work twelve, no one will work more than an hour. And if people aren’t working to keep the business going, there won’t be a business. And if there is no business, there is no one to pay workers, and there are a lot more hungry families in the world.
But Jesus isn’t telling us about how this world works or how this world should work. Jesus is teaching us about the kingdom of heaven. This is how the gracious and merciful God runs things. And the way God chooses to do things is so high above us that we cannot understand it. God’s thoughts and ways are not our thoughts or ways. They are higher thoughts and higher ways. Joyfully and mercifully so.
But you can see, can’t you, what those who were hired at the beginning of the day were doing. They see the bums who came just in time for pay-day receiving their denarius and the minds start racing. The ones who are terrible at math are trying to calculate. “He did one hour of work and got one denarius. I worked twelve. That’s 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 (take off a shoe) 11, 12 denarii.” The ones who are better at math are taking out their cell phones and calling their wives to go buy steak and lobster for supper because daddy’s coming home with a big paycheck.
But when that one coin gets dropped in their hand, they are frustrated. The frustration turns to anger. The anger turns to bitterness. And the bitterness turns to a false idea of what is right and just. “Hey, boss, you’re a lousy dude. You are giving those bums more than they deserve. We worked the whole day in the heat and dirt, and you’ve made them equal to us. This is not right. This is not fair. This is not just.”
Christian, you and I fall into the same trap as those hired at the beginning of the day. We think we have earned or deserved more than what God has given us. When we start to focus on what we do not have, we forget that everything we have is a benevolent gift from God.
God doesn’t owe you anything. You are, all of us are, sinners. We see God’s grace every day as He makes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust, the good and the evil. Every good thing – coffee, padded chairs, a pair of socks, and a soft tissue to blow your nose – all of it is an undeserved gift from God’s mercy. The worst existence on earth is better than what we deserve in hell.
When you see God being gracious and giving someone more than they deserve, do not grumble and tell God that He is unfair or unjust.
Repent. Repent and be thankful.
Listen to what the master says to those who grumbled, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity (lit. ‘Is your eye evil because I am good?)?”
In the end, those who worked the whole day got exactly what they bargained for. They agreed for a denarius, and a denarius, they got. And that is all they will ever get because they are sent away from the vineyard.
There are all sorts of vineyards where you can get exactly what you deserve. There is only one vineyard and one vineyard owner who is generous and merciful. If you don’t like it, then take what is yours and go.
That is the saddest truth of all. Those who believe God owes them will get exactly what God owes them, judgment and expulsion from His presence. The kingdom of heaven is about grace that works by raising the dead – not by rewarding the rewardable. If you don’t like it, you can take what is yours and leave.
Our parable today depicts grace as undeserved wages. Workers get paid for work that they did not do. And, believer, so do you. You have not done the work of keeping God’s Law. What God has demanded of you, you have not done, but you get treated as though you have. Jesus has borne the heat of the day, and you get His wages. We are those who are hired at the eleventh hour. God be praised, and may we never forget that.
And because of the mercy and grace of God, you are no longer workers being overpaid. By the grace of God in Christ, you are members of the kingdom, children of God, and brothers and sisters of Christ. You remain with Him. Not only do you get paid generously, you also get to remain in the vineyard because His ways of mercy and love are higher than the heavens are above the earth. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.