The parable of the workers in the vineyard is another of those parables well known both within and outside the church. For some, it is a stumbling block to accepting Christ as Savior and Lord; for others, it is a lesson in humility. I must confess I have heard a number of sermons on the parable which reminded listeners that we all get the same reward, no matter how we serve God and His Church. Truthfully, I think those sermons that concentrate on the reward, the denarius, miss one of the focal points of the parable. As with the last couple weeks, Jesus is teaching His disciples. While the parable may have been heard by outsiders, it is clearly intended for those who already follow Him. Jesus uses a part of everyday life to explain to His disciples what it means to take up their cross and follow Him.
Peter has just asked Jesus to remember that they (the disciples) have given up everything and followed Him. What then will be their reward? Understand, all those who have chosen to follow Jesus have truly stepped out in faith. All have left livelihoods. Some have left families. All have even given up a bit of anonymity with respect to the Temple leaders and are now known to follow the rabble-rouser Jesus. Peter’s question about their reward is understandable. Should not the first followers get a pretty good reward in comparison to others? And if they don’t get material rewards in this life, as some of the rich young men whom they encounter do, what do they get? It is that same self-centeredness which plagues the Older Brother in the story of the Prodigal Son. Our sense of justice, as well-meaning as it may be, is simply wrong. Like the Older Brother and the “Friend” in this parable, those who do more think they deserve more. It sounds reasonable, but is it Gospel-living?
Families in the ANE, just as today, often lived hand to mouth. These gatherings of day-laborers thus became important in the provisions of daily life. Workers would gather to be hired, the hope being that they would make money to support themselves and their families. As with us, some were more motivated than others. Additionally, there was a perception among those that hired that some were more motivated, and therefore better, than others. The real “go-getters” gathered at dawn. Those a little slower or maybe distracted would have been in the second group. You know those who would not make it out until 12 noon or 3pm. Those would be the ones we labeled as lazy. They slept in or they were distracted. Maybe they drank too much the night before at the local bar. But in this marketplace, there is real need. Workers are still gathered at 5pm hoping against hope for the chance to provide for some of their daily needs. If you have ever been one of the last picked in gym class, you can well imagine who these fellows were. To other hirers, they no doubt looked incapable or unwilling to do the work. Yet, they stood in the marketplace at the eleventh hour hoping for just 1/12 of the daily wage.
When the spokesman for those who have worked the longest grumbles, the landowner gently confronts him. What’s your problem? You are being given precisely what we contracted. Is your eye evil? Understand, the landowner is asking the laborer what his eye is focused upon, just as Jesus is asking you and me what our eyes are focused upon. If he or we are focused on the idea that material treasure equals our value or our security, then we are allowing evil to creep into our lives through our eyes. Our focus is misplaced.
One of the uncomfortable truths in Scripture is that you and I are of both profound importance to God and of no significance. He valued us enough that He died for us, but we have nothing worthwhile to offer Him, apart from a thankful and joyful heart. When we begin to think that our gifts of time, of talents, and of treasures in any way cause us to merit reward from Him, we have, in truth, eviscerated whatever good we have done. God has called us because He is gracious. We should have a grateful heart for our own salvation and a joyful heart for what He has done both in the calling of ourselves and in the calling of those gathered around us. Far too often, though, we are like the grumbling worker. We compare ourselves to others forgetting that before Him, we have all fallen short, all of us. Comparing ourselves to other Christians, just as the worker did to other workers, will cause us to forget the true wisdom and fairness of God, and to become envious of one another. A church that allows such comparisons to take root will quickly become a body focused on evil and not upon God. A group of “believers” focused upon such comparisons can have no unity or fellowship, nor can it demonstrate in any way how kingdom-living can affect those in the world around us.
Just as Jesus was secure in His loving relationship with His Father in Heaven and was able to drink from the cup prepared for Him, certain that His Father would never forsake Him, even to the point of death on a cross, so should you and I be assured of our Lord’s love of us. That He hung on that cross two thousand years ago demonstrates His incontrovertible love of us and all others in our daily lives. His glorious Resurrection, similarly, reminds us all of His unassailable power to accomplish what ever He has purposed in our lives. Armed with those two certainties, and with the joyful and thankful heart that comes with them, you and I are sent out into His fields not to grumble, but to show others how His kingdom has already and is changing the world. That, brothers and sisters, is the only reward that does not pass away, as our opening collect reminded us this morning. That, brothers and sisters, is a call worthy of any son or daughter of our Father in Heaven. So, upon what is your eye focused? Your calling? Or your desires?