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)
It’s not fair!
That seems to have been the cry of people protesting against health measures implemented by governments around the world. Others have talked about ‘my right’ not to wear a mask, not to social distance, etc. And it’s not fair that some get the virus and some don’t; some die from it while others don’t even show symptoms. Life in the real world is profoundly unfair. Many of the protests have revealed a preference for ‘my rights’ over community health and safety.
At first glance the parable told by Jesus in this Sunday’s Gospel seems profoundly unfair. Why should those who have worked only one hour be given a full day’s pay? ‘It’s not fair!’ complain the ones who worked all day for the same wage. The vineyard owner (God) is criticised for treating all his workers with equal fairness.
God’s kind of thinking and acting is often very different to human thinking and acting.
Life in the Kingdom is not a reward for long hours of work. It is a gift – it cannot be earned, but is had by responding to God’s choice of us, no matter what condition we are in, whether we are an early bird or a late comer.
God’s outrageous and extravagant graciousness and generosity is so different to our self-centredness and the often petty and exacting way in which we treat each other. God’s sense of fairness and justice is so much broader and richer than ours. That is what life in the Kingdom of God is supposed to be.
Like last Sunday, it is our awareness of God’s extraordinary kindness, patience and mercy which help us to act in the same way - to see with God’s eyes, to feel with God’s heart and to act with God’s intention.
Join us in celebrating at home this Sunday using the links below.