The parable of the vineyard.

Matthew  20: 1-16  “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius[a] for the day and sent them into his vineyard. “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. “He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”



We are introduced to the characters in the story. God is the landowner. We are the workers. And the vineyard is the world in which we can serve Him.

The parable of the Vineyard appears in only the Gospel of Matthew. I know that it seems the Gospel of Matthew goes on forever in the current Lectionary, but we have to think about what the parable is relating to in current live times. Thirty times in Matthew, the phrase “the kingdom of heaven” is found. It simply means the reign of and rule of King Jesus.

The parable of the laborers in the vineyard is about the  10th commandment basically.. Tho shalt not covet... In a very real sense this parable is about coveting. While “covet” may not seem the most obvious word to describe what is going on here, it does fit both the emphasis of Jesus’ teaching and the over rearching emphasis in Matthew on the Law and Jesus’ representation of it in a way that transforms our thinking and doing. Coveting lies at the heart of this parable in a couple of ways.We have a tendency, as the parable aptly illustrates, to covet and to be resentful of what others receive from God. This land owner obviously had a large vineyard of grapes that needed to be harvested quickly. The owner of the vineyard asks those who have worked longest and (presumably) hardest for him, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” The point is that God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness are God’s to give away as God sees fit. We also sometimes covet what God chooses to give to others and that is not a good thing. A parable is essentially an elaborate allegory. We are invited to see ourselves in the story, and then apply it to ourselves. The wages at stake (even at the moment of Jesus’ first telling of the parable) are not actual daily wages for vineyard-laborers, but forgiveness, life, and salvation for believers. We need not literally be laborers in a vineyard, as we are all of us co-workers in the kingdom . This parable basically also tells us .. God provides. It seems clear that this is one of the messages from the Gospel reading this  week. But it would also be clear that God provides for our needs in unusual and sometimes confusing ways. Whether it is manna and quail in the desert in the old Testament readings or a surprisingly generous but perhaps somewhat unfair payment for labor, God provides in ways that give us pause and, hopefully, make us think. We also discover, when we look at the stories as well as our own lives, that God works in partnership to meet needs.

In the Book of Exodus, we can see that effort is required to gather the manna that forms each morning and to capture the quail that roost in the evening in the old testament readings. Labor in the vineyard is a part of the covenant made with God as we claim the joy of belonging to the kin-dom. We aren’t passive recipients of God’s grace, but engaged in the process of discovery and acceptance. God provides, we gather, and we share.

We are weeks past Labor Day in the US, but we can celebrate the efforts of the church to gather and share God’s bounty within the body and with the wider community as well. There is also a hospitality issue in the gospel text. Who is welcome in our vineyard? What barriers get in the way of truly welcoming those who may not yet belong to the body? What ‘rights” do longer-term, harder working members feel they hold over those who may have joined more recently?

Does it seem odd to ask these questions in a space for worship planning? Another theme might be “sharing the load.” Who among us is carrying the “burden of the day,” as some of the workers in the vineyard complained?. There should joy in working, even when it is hard work.

Perhaps it is an implied question in Jesus’s parable from Matthew’s Gospel. What is it that God is doing? The kind of economic policy and worker’s compensation Jesus trots out in this parable would be cause for a violent overthrow of the government, one might think. We are quick to translate this parable out of the economic world in which it is set and make it a spiritual exchange that is somehow more adaptable for us. Even though there are those of us who have labored long and hard for our reward, there are new people around us. And like the all-day workers in the story, we might covet the attention they receive or whatever we perceive they are getting.   We have borne the burden of the day; we have worked in the hot sun; we have endured long sermons and tedious lessons and have labored hard to walk the straight and narrow path. We should get a bigger reward, shouldn’t we? But is that the proper interpretation. There is plenty of work to be done for sure. But let’s not assume that Jesus was trying to change our whole monetary system at the same time. Maybe he was asking us to consider what our economics are based on and how we go about determining the worth of others. Maybe he was really trying to turn our assumptions about the good life or about how the world ought to work upside down. The truth is, we don’t like change. And this was definitely a change.  How do we labor in the Lord’s vineyard without feeling like we are owed something, but simply enjoying the service and the connections that it brings us? Settling in for the long haul, in this faith journey, is to acknowledge that much of what we’ve learned about how the world works doesn’t fit us anymore. The old testament requires that we accept whatever the powers that be want us to accept. And then Jesus comes along and turns everything upside down. It just did not seem fair to some. So if we put this parable into modern thinking it would go like this The landowner has the foreman do a curious thing. He is to pay the ones that were just hired, the 11th hour guys, first. They received $100.

“So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. The early birds in Christ's parable thought the pay scale was unfair. They worked from sunup but were paid no more than the lazy scoundrels who showed up an hour before quitting time.  The 11th hour people were the Gentiles, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, and they had not worked as hard. .So the early birds.. they took their case to the labor relations board, which immediately filed a class action complaint against the corporate CEO. His response was honest and logical: "Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?" (v. 13). In other words, "Your contract has not been violated. I paid exactly what you asked for." "But what of those other guys," they countered, "who worked only one hour? They're getting as much as we are. It's not fair!" The vineyard owner answered, "I choose to give to this last as I give to you" (v. 14). In other words, "It's my money. I can do with it as I like. Once in a while the boss is even motivated by grace. " Remember that there are over six hundred laws in the Old Testament. I find it tough just managing the Ten Commandments. Six hundred are absolutely overwhelming. So we need to admit that we have sometimes acted like this parable and coveted. Most of us have. The point is, in one way or another most of us show up about quitting time. We want to be treated fairly. . And that's what this parable promises: a God who gives us not what we deserve but what we need. And that is the meaning of good news! Beware if we find ourselves saying, “look how much I’ve done for you God.. Grace teaches us that God does for others what we would never do for them. Grace is a gift that costs everything to the giver and nothing to the receiver.