September 19, 1999

Matthew 20:1-16

As Jesus was telling what the kingdom of heaven would be like, he said:

Early one morning a man went out to hire some workers for his vineyard. After he had agreed to pay them the usual amount for a day's work, he sent them off to his vineyard.

About nine that morning, the man saw some other people standing in the market with nothing to do. He said he would pay them what was fair, if they would work in his vineyard. So they went.

At noon and again about three in the afternoon he returned to the market. And each time he made the same agreement with others who were loafing around with nothing to do.

Finally, about five in the after noon the man went back and found some others standing there. He asked them, "Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?"

"Because no one has hired us," they answered. Then he told them to go work in his vineyard.

That evening the owner of the vineyard told the man in charge of the workers to call them in and give them their money. He also told the man to begin with the ones who were hired last. When the workers arrived, the ones who had been hired at five in the afternoon were given a full day's pay.

The workers who had been hired first thought they would be given more than the others. But when they were given the same, they began complaining to the owner of the vineyard. They said, "The ones who were hired last worked for only one hour. But you paid them the same that you did us. And we worked in the hot sun all day long!"

The owner answered one of them, "Friend, I didn't cheat you. I paid you exactly what we agreed on. Take your money now and go! What business is it of yours if I want to pay them the same that I paid you? Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Why should you be jealous, if I want to be generous?"

Jesus then said, "So it is. Everyone who is now first will be last, and everyone who is last will be first." [CEV]


1. This story brings to the forefront of our reality the way in which we measure things -- economics. It sets up a radically different way of measuring things spiritual and eternal. We need to know the difference.

2. Ah, yes, the first hired and the last paid. Not only did they have to work longer but then they had to wait to be paid last (a double unfairness in economic terms) and when they were paid they found their expectations of pay to have been inflated to the point where they could not be satisfied with their initial contract -- they thought they had a claim to more, to sit at the right and left of Jesus, so to speak.
     This disjuncture reminds us of the importance of simply being thankful in the presence of God. One of our spiritual mentors from the seventeenth century, Brother Lawrence, speaks little but clearly about the presence of God. Whether one has been around church for a long time or one is a relative new-comer or is just on the verge of trying church -- the only payment or benefit one can expect is the presence of God. This is either enough for you or it isn't. I pray it will become enough.

3. "The holiest, most ordinary, and most necessary practice of the spiritual life is that of the presence of God. It is to take delight in and become accustomed to God's divine company, speaking humbly and conversing lovingly with God all the time, at every moment without rule or measure, especially in times of temptation, suffering, aridity, weariness, even infidelity and sin." [Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, "Spiritual Maxims"]
     In this way we learn to say "thank you" for the opportunity to have worked for a whole day. We learn to say "thank you" for the opportunity to have worked for an hour. We don't measure ourselves against each other, but in light of the opportunity to work in the vineyard, whether for a long time or for a moment.
     In this way we better live Psalm 84:10, "For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness."

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