September 18, 2005 - Pentecost +18

Matthew 20:1-16

 1 This story throws light on the kingdom of heaven. A landowner went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay the workers a salary of a silver coin for the day, and sent them to his vineyard.

He went out again at about nine in the morning, and seeing others idle in the square, he said to them: ‘You, too, go to my vineyard and I will pay you what is just.’ So they went.

The owner went out at midday and again at three in the afternoon,and he did the same. Finally he went out at the last working hour – it was the eleventh – and he saw others standing there. So he said to them: ‘Why do you stay idle the whole day?’ They answered: ‘Because no one has hired us.’ The master said: ‘Go and work in my vine­yard.’

When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager: ‘Call the workers and pay them their wage, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’ Those who had come to work at the eleventh hour turned up and were given a denarius each (a silver coin). 10 When it was the turn of the first, they thought they would receive more. 11 But they, too, received a denarius each. So, on receiving it, they began to grumble against the landowner.

12 They said: ‘These last hardly worked an hour, yet you have treated them the same as us who have endured the day’s burden and heat.’ 13 The owner said to one of them: ‘Friend, I have not been unjust to you. Did we not agree on a denarius a day? 14 So take what is yours and go. I want to give to the last the same as I give to you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do as I please with my money? Why are you envious when I am kind?’

16 So will it be: the last will be first, the first will be last.”

= = =
Notes from [The Community Christian Bible


Many are surprised at this parable. They find it unfair to give the same reward to everyone, without taking into account the labor and sacrifices of everyone.

Without doubt Jesus wanted to shock us and shatter the idea we obstinately cling to: that we have merits that God must recognize. However we should pay closer attention to the story: Jesus makes a comparison, not of several laborers, but of several groups of laborers. Each group represents a nation or a social class, and while some of them have long ago received the word of God, others have just become believers.

All throughout history, God has been calling different people to work in his vineyard. He called Abraham first and placed his descendants in charge of his work in the world. Later on, during the time of Moses many others joined his group in order to leave Egypt and that has continued throughout history. The elders never cease to claim their right to receive better treatment than the others. Actually the vineyard has not been confided to them exclusively.

Then, with the coming of Christ, the Gospel was brought to other nations that were until then pagan. They came into the Church and shaped Christianity. They also claimed to be owners of the kingdom of God and the Church.

To this day, there are also social groups that are amazed when the Church criticizes their demand for privileges and does not assign them the first benches in the temple for they had always believed that the Church was theirs.

In this parable, all are treated on equal terms and receive one silver coin each. Let them be happy for having been invited to work, as they were unemployed.

= = = = = = =
Comments by Wesley

1. We try to structure fairness as though it were a legal entity. So there are lots of rules regarding fairness. Some have to do with individuals, some with groups. Some come from the past and others anticipate a different future. All in all, fairness is a quite mysterious category that tends to break the very rules intended to bring it about. This is similar to questions about "enough".

2. One of the hardest parts of fairness is that, all things being equal, we ought to be seen as strong, good-looking, and above average. Fairness ought to be on our side, else what good is it? We use fairness as a tool and claim it when we are down and ignore it when we are up. In some sense, fairness is a measure of our spiritual maturity.

You may want to put a little chart on the refrigerator door to see how often you claim what is fair for yourself, for someone else, and what actual actions you employed to make things right. After a week evaluate it, tell someone who will see your actions what change you are going to make for the following week to be more fair to GOD, yourself, and your neighbor, and work the chart for another week. Hopefully you will be further along, though it may take a year or more to make a difference regarding some cultural forms of fairness.

3. What was the latest unfairness that you have had to deal with? Was it about you? Was someone else caught in the midst of an unfairness? Either way, did you continue to play fair or did you give in to playing some other secret hole card to make up for the unfairness?

It is so difficult to remain on an even keel, not get envious and become unkind in response to feeling unfairly dealt with.

Sermon Index | wesleyspace Home