For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. Matthew 20:1 (NIV)
Like a Landowner – The Unfair Series – Part 1
As was a Rabbi’s way, Jesus used parables to do more than just teach people; they were stories that get under the skin, poke around preconceived ideas, peel like an onion with layer upon layer of meaning the more you think about it and let it roll around in your heart and mind.
Parables aren’t fables, stories or allegories. They’re more alive than that; much more provocative. They help us ask the right questions, and guide us to face truths that we perhaps have always known but have been too scared to unearth.
Jesus tells one such story when he’s not long for the cross (although no one knows that yet…):
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.” Matthew 20:1-2 (NIV).
The landowner comes back to the marketplace at 9am and finds more workers standing around doing nothing, so he hires them and sends them to his field to work, too, promising them a fair wage. He does the same at 12pm, 3pm, and finally, he makes his final hires for the day at 5pm.
When the work day is done, he calls everyone together so they can be paid and make their way home. He tells his foreman to pay the those hired last first. And when he does, he pays them a denarius each. The ones hired first, at about 6 am, automatically think that they’re going to get more since they worked more. But when they get a single denarius too, they get ticked off.
“These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
“But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?” (V12-15 NIV).
What is this parable stirring within you, already?
Before you go assigning God the role of the landowner, Jews the role of those hired first, and Gentiles the roles of those hired later, take a moment to create a clean slate for this parable to sit on in your heart and mind. Let it hook in somewhere uncomfortable, maybe even somewhere surprising.
If you really think about it, the story is absurd. It’s weird. It doesn’t make any sense. But then, sometimes, neither does the Kingdom of God. If you want to understand the realm of Jesus – the kingdom of love and grace and belonging – then listen to this parable with fresh ears and imagine it with fresh eyes. Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is like what happens between all these people.
You might find that in a world that demands two plus two equal four each and every time the equation is tallied, the realm of God comes and says that two plus two could equal anything and everything other than four.
Jesus finished the parable with:
“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (V16)
It’s a parable about unfairness so great and divine, it just might change the world.
Written by Liz Milani