Once again our gospel text is a ripper that cuts across many common ideas and practices that happen every day around us. Today we have the Parable of the workers in the vineyard or the Generous Landowner. It comes from Matthew 20, verses 1-16. It is worth reading in the text below.
Jesus is describing to the disciples what the Kingdom of God is like. It is like this landowner who needs his grapes picked. He hires workers from the marketplace, at the standard daily rate for then – and they are happy with that. Later in the day he goes out again urging more workers to join his harvest.
Eventually near days end he finds more people doing nothing in the town square – the ones no one else wanted – most likely our lame, slow, addicted or battlers struggling to get by. The usual suspects lurking
Come pay time after work the landowner decides to pay all the workers, regardless of their start time and productivity the same denarius. Obviously, the early birds who worked all day are upset, “why do they get as much as we do when they did very little?” Most trade unions would be upset by this story too**, it undermines collective bargaining and solidarity within the workforce. Our landowner defends his generosity and sends the grumblers away with their days pay. Jesus concludes – ‘so the first will be last, and the last first’.
This is a startling and challenging picture of how Jesus sees the kingdom of God playing out in real life. We often hear of the ‘upside down kingdom’ which lifts the lowly and pulls down the proud* – and this exactly happens in this story. Already this week we have read of the rich young ruler turning away from Jesus and the disciples heard yesterday that the first will be last as well. Today’s story is not an anomaly, an exception in the thought of Jesus – it is a consistent theme, so let’s have a closer look.
A lot of Christians shy away from politics, but this story is very political in its outworking. We have an election coming up soon here, thankfully not too much about tax cuts for the wealthy has been thrown around, one good part of Covid 19!
Today’s story is a good picture of generalised anarchist political theory where everyone in a society contributes what they can and receives what they need to live. An Aussie, Dave Andrews (friend and contemporary of Smithy), wrote a good book called “Christianarchy” which looks into this type of concept in depth.
No wonder the rich man turned away from Jesus, it was going to cost him to follow further. No wonder our hard workers were grumpy today, they felt cheated by the less skilled or capable workers being paid the same as them.
Yet we all have the same needs for shelter, food, warmth and a meaningful existence. To contribute is a great honour, it gives us dignity and standing when we can contribute. Much research has proved that giving the poor handouts is not as worthwhile as giving the poor something to do and contribute.
Handouts demean and keep the giver in power. Opportunity lifts up, provides skills and hope for tomorrow.
Our landowner is not only generous, he is casting a vision of what our society could be like if we chose to live in the way of Jesus. How can we be a part of bringing this vision into reality. After all we pray regularly “your kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven!”
May we have the balls to be courageous and vote for this type of society. May those of us who employ people look for ways to put the last first and the first last – a very difficult thing if we are concerned about the company we keep and what they think of us.
Our communities are bulging now with people cast on the scrap heap by accident, addiction and adverse conditions. This story calls us to include them and give them a meaningful lot so that they have the equal dignity of anybody else. Not the snide remarks and put down comments of politicians or others privileged to make them.
Jesus Christ, friend of Outcasts and sinners – he is Lord and his way will challenge our privilege by flipping it upside down and welcoming those others won’t engage with.
May God give us grace to live in this way.
* – see Mary’s song in Luke chapter 1
MATTHEW 20:1-16, (NIV)