Parable of the Vineyard Workers : Matthew 20:1-16

The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard
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Jesus told a parable about hiring workers for a vineyard. The vineyard owner recruited people throughout the day, so the workers toiled for different amounts of time. 

The ones who worked all day were annoyed at the end of the day when they discovered that those who had only worked for the last hour received the same pay as them. 

The owner said I have a right to do as I wish with my money and then that mysterious saying, ‘The last will be first, and the first will be last’.

I can identify with the workers in the vineyard because many years ago when I was a teenager, I worked as a casual labourer at a pineapple cannery in Australia.    

I queued up with my friends, hoping for a day’s work. There were many people, mainly women, in the queue, and we just hoped that by the time we got to the front, there were still jobs available.

We were usually lucky and allocated a job (just for the day). The pineapples were brought into the cannery on a train line in trucks from the pineapple plantation. About twenty production lines worked hard to get the pineapples through the peeling and slicing machines and hand-packed into tins.

Early in the afternoon, the foreman would start shutting lines down according to how many pineapples were still available to can. 

We were then paid according to how many hours we had worked from 8 am until our production line was closed.

The work was hard – the conditions tropical – but for some reason, we enjoyed it for the experience, which was so different from anything we had known. 

It was an excellent company to work for – and believe it or not, when we were laid off early, sometimes we found that we were paid for an hour or two more than we had worked. 

Of course, this might have been a mistake in the Wages Department, but we took it as a token of our employer’s benevolence and were thrilled and worked even harder for him the next day.

The Workers in the Vineyard

Peter had asked Jesus what reward he and the other disciples would receive for leaving all that they had to follow him. Jesus responded with the parable of the workers in the vineyard, explaining, ‘This is what the Kingdom of Heaven is like’ – meaning being paid for more hours than working, or receiving something completely undeserved.

This parable is about the vineyard owner being incredibly generous to people no one else wanted, who had not made the cut according to worldly standards. It is a demonstration of God’s loving mercy rather than just rewards.

This is the logic that Jesus came to demonstrate to us in his ministry. He was not particularly interested in those who thought they were entitled to specific things from God. 

He was more interested in the outcasts and sinners who welcomed him and sat down at the table with him and his disciples, seeking the Kingdom of Heaven. He was interested in the failures that were still there in the marketplace at the end of the working day because no one else wanted them. 

Jesus came to teach about God’s mercy and his gift of life eternal, but this offended those who looked for their security elsewhere. Those who looked for their security in power, money, and material possessions.

What Does This Mean for us Today?

Today we live in a commercial world that has developed over the centuries to become a consumer society that can only work if driven by a desire to ‘have’, and to have more of – more is best today, it would seem.

Through clever advertising strategies, we have developed a desire to have the latest shiny gadgets, luxury homes, and exotic holidays. 

According to where we are in our lives, we can also desire to have respect, power, recognition, a thousand Facebook likes, and a hundred thousand Instagram followers. 

We desire to have these things and a lot more too, as modern-day economics and clever advertising have convinced us we need them to be happy and live a fulfilled life – this can be a major issue today.

Because this model of living is the basis of suffering that many of us experience due to greed, envy, aggression, pride, and vain ambition. 

It is not that we do not need to have certain things like shelter, food, warmth, self-esteem, etc. to survive – and there is no reason for us not to enjoy on top of that some of the shiny gadgets and goodies available to us today – after all, we live in the times we live in.  

The importance that we place upon attaining those things – and the lengths to which we will go to hold onto them is where the issue lies. 

Because an excessive desire to have will never be satisfied with what we get and will always long to have more. 

Jesus came to demonstrate a simpler way of living. He came to show a way of life that emphasised sharing and caring for each other, a way of life where all were seen to be equal. 

This way of living is based on actively being in the community – giving, sharing, and caring as equals. Because this is what the Kingdom of Heaven looks like, as Jesus said at the beginning of the parable.

I know that I have experienced more joy and fulfilment in the latter part of my life from sharing with others – than striving to have my just reward – which I have on many an occasion in the earlier days of my life.

For a just reward separates us from the rewarder, ‘Take what is yours, and go!’, the vineyard owner in the parable said to those who grumbled – in other words, the debt is paid, and our relationship concluded.

I believe that the best way to build a great relationship with God is by building relationships on earth today that have a healthy balance between the desire to have and the desire to give. Because we must not only give of ourselves to others but also allow them to give of themselves to us; we must give and take in equal amounts – as circumstances allow.

This parable is about the choice of the landowner (who represents God). He offered a decent wage for a day’s work and went on to provide those he found later still looking for work with the same amount.

This was an Act of Mercy, not an Injustice.

It was offered unconditionally by a kind and caring father to those who were seeking to improve their situations.

The vineyard owner demonstrated how God offers life eternal equally to all, although none of us deserves it.

Mercy is an instinct inherent in us all and provided by God our Father in Heaven, it often lays dormant until the seed is germinated by pure and unadulterated love.

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