The Laborers In the Vineyard
Imagine a person who just got hired to work at McDonald’s. The smell of the fries on the back burner, the promise of a day’s worth of minimum wage: it sure could be better, but it also could be a lot worse. The workday starts at 6am and goes until 6pm, and though the hours are long, they provide the pay needed until next fall when the school year rolls around. The clock drums in the corner. Customers walk in and out, and before the workers can catch their breath it’s mid-morning and their boss comes in with a new co-worker. Together, the original employees and the newly-hired conquer the day. That is until the manager comes in three more times; each encounter resulting in a new addition to the staff of Mickey D’s.
For anyone such an interruption would be considered very irritating, but by the time payday rolls around, all inner turmoil should be worth it in the end. So when the moment finally comes, one by one the employees anxiously line up to receive their week’s wages, organizing themselves in order of the most recently hired to the longest-standing workers. And one by one the manager dishes out the same pay, from the first employee all the way to the last.
In the world of today, such a scenario would be unfair to say the least, yet this is almost identical to the situation presented in Matthew 20:1-16. In this book of the Gospel, Jesus recounts the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard. Just like in the McDonald’s example above, a “manager” hired several helping hands throughout the day, only to end up giving those that worked the least amount of time as much pay as those that had worked the most. When asked for his reasoning behind this, the master replied, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go… Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity? So the last will be first, and the first last.”
In a world that is so focused on the accumulation of material possessions, this is quite the statement. While it paints a nice picture of acceptance and appreciation, the underlying message is much deeper. In verse one Jesus compares the vineyard and all its workers within to the kingdom of heaven. One way to interpret this is to look at the “master” as Lord and Savior, and the “workers” as those who have been offered the chance to believe and fight for the kingdom. As the master more or less tells the workers in the parable, it is not a race to see who gets to the Kingdom of Heaven first.
Much the same message can be found in The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). The older brother is frustrated at the treatment the younger brother received after all he had done, or rather, all he had not done. His time spent working for his father was wasted, and yet the father treated the younger boy as if nothing had happened at all. Here, and in the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard, we can learn an important lesson from those who believed they were wronged by the one who loved them most. For the older brother and workers of the vineyard, it was hard not to check the success of one’s self by looking at where others were. Nonetheless, it is shown by the master’s example in each story that everyone who comes to Him will come in his or her own time. Each will experience the same love, forgiveness, and salvation that the Master offers to all.
As workers of the Kingdom and recipients of all Greenville has to offer, not one of us is more worthy than the other. So next time you find your wage unfair or your work distribution undesirable, consider that you, the receiver, are in no position to question the giver, and when it comes time for you to close between the wage you have received and what you desire, I hope for your sake you will be content with the former.