It’s strange isn’t it, we all recognise the cry ‘it’s not fair’ and ‘fairness’ is a good principle. So often though when we talk about ‘is it fair?’ we mean ‘is it the same’ and at my most honest I probably mean am I being treated worse than others?
It’s hard to think, when I’m not at my best, I might react to generosity differently… if it is directed towards me then I celebrate, I’m thankful of someone’s kindness, if I see others receiving generosity and I am not… well perhaps I might, like those who worked all day in the parable, be found saying ‘hey – it’s not fair!’
Yet this parable of Jesus challenges us to our core! Just as last week we were thinking about God’s forgiveness as being without condition or limit, so this parable shows us the same kind of generous inclusion. In the parables ‘the Vineyard’ is often used to talk about the people of Israel, and the Vineyard owner in other parables is God. It’s not an ‘absolute – always the case’ connection but as we continue to think about what God is like and what we as Christians are called to be I think it might be helpful.
God welcomes ‘workers’ into the vineyard family of God’s people, some respond quickly, others slower, still more not until the end of the day. When asked why they had not responded they replied ‘because nobody hired us’.
I like you have already responded, but there are others, many others, not yet welcomed into God’s Vineyard, yet when they do respond their reward will be the same as those who responded quickly.
God’s mercy and Grace is wide, vast, as the hymn puts it “there’s a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea” this doesn’t mean there are no consequences or justice but that same hymn speaks of God’s presence as being the place where “earth’s failings have such kindly judgement given”.
Judgement, Mercy and Grace are together part of the nature of God, they can’t be separated, we might want a greater emphasis on one rather than the other but God maintains a perfect balance of all three, that together demonstrate Perfect Love.
So how should this parable challenge us? Who do we relate to in the parable?
We might see ourselves as those who responded early to God, living a life of faith since childhood. We might feel we are those who ‘hung around, lost’ because nobody came to tell us to come until nearly the end of the day.
We might feel like the Vineyard owner going out to find those who have not yet responded.
Truthfully we might connect with all of those at different parts of our lives.
We might even feel more disconnected, like still nobody has invited us in, each of us may also feel those different responses to God’s generosity at different times in our lives.
Truthfully though God’s generosity means there is the same belonging, Grace and Blessing for all no matter when a person turns to Christ, no matter what a person has done before or after.
For those who respond early, whose whole lives have been lived in God’s Vineyard, by God’s law who haven’t been the prodigal there can be the temptation to be like the all day workers of this parable or the older son of the Prodigal son parable – however…
Like the older son is told ‘everything is yours’ there is no extra reward except to say that the experience of living knowing that you are loved, living in God’s Grace everyday, has been ours for the whole day.
This beautiful and best way of living is what we have known others come to it later and they have lived longer without that experience.
Our challenge, I believe, is to truly understand God’s vast and wide, generous mercy and to work to find those who are still waiting, those who feel that they are never going to be ‘hired’ that they are not wanted for who they are or what they have done, those who don’t yet know that generosity and through our reflection of God’s love to welcome them in.