The story Jesus told of the workers in the vineyard and the book of Jonah both contrast the generosity of God with our human tendency to be mean and self righteous.
Have you ever been jealous? Have you watched someone else received the recognition or reward you expected? You had to smile and congratulate someone who you knew didn’t deserve this prize any more than you did, while inside you were hoping you’d be the one getting the praise.
Life isn’t fair. When we have to stand aside and watch someone else get the glory, the money, the nice house or the friend or date we wanted, it hurts. We get what the Greeks called the “evil eye.” That green-eyed monster, envy, ruins our joy.
The parable of the workers in the vineyard exposes the inequality and lack of justice in our present world system where there has never been equal pay for an equal day’s work.
Some of the workers in God’s vineyard such as home carers, mums, volunteers in charity shops and food banks, toddler groups, youth groups, etc, either get paid nothing at all or get paid very little
Others, including CEOs of big companies, banks, you tubers and footballers are paid more than most of us could imagine
There are no lazy idlers in this story. The landowner, (the rich guy) gets up very early in the morning and goes out to hire labourers. He agrees with the workers the usual daily wage. He is not undercutting anyone. He pays the going rate.
Local farmers, despite COVID 19, have still hired workers from Eastern Europe because there were insufficient British people prepared to live on site and earn low wages. I find this sad. It reminds us that the poor across the world have to survive on much less than the poorest here.
The landowner went out again at 9.00 am to the marketplace to negotiate more workers. Because these workers weren’t hired early on, they know they have little hope of being hired that day.
There was no social security system to keep them fed. The landowner didn’t offer them the daily rate. He just said, “I will pay you whatever is right.”
Most employers try to get away with paying as little as possible. Without a contract or proper agreement, these workers could have little expectation of a fair reward. The landowner went out again at noon, at three o’clock and five to hire more workers.
At five pm when most of the working day was gone, he asked those waiting in the marketplace why they had been standing idle all day. The answer was obvious. No one had hired them.
There are many in this position today, desperate for work. On the news this week, there were five hundred people who applied for a part time cleaning job.
These were well qualified people who had been in decent jobs in the past. They had families to feed and mortgages to pay. They didn’t want to sit idly at home on benefit.
The landowner had compassion on the unemployed and sent them into his vineyard.
When evening came the landowner called his manager and told him to pay his workers the daily wage whatever time they started work. Instead of looking at how much profit he could make, he looked at the needs of his workers.
Maybe he called in the workers who had started last first so they wouldn’t be sneered at or looked down upon by those who had worked all day.
When those who had worked since early morning received their pay, they grumbled self righteously that those who had only worked for an hour received the same pays as them when they had slogged through the heat of the day.
Despite the grumbling, the landowner called the disgruntled spokesperson, friend. He had done him no wrong because he had paid the daily rate agreed upon. The landowner had chosen to be generous with what he had.
The tenth commandment is “You shall not covet.” It is easy to covet what other people have, particularly if we have worked hard and don’t feel we have been rewarded sufficiently. Like the older son in the parable of the two sons we can feel bitter about our lot and not recognise how privileged we are
If, like those who had worked all day we have a working contract, we are particularly blessed.
Commentators are far too quick to spiritualise this parable and say it is about our envy for those we consider less deserving who receive God’s gift of life and spiritual gifts late.
Whilst it can and should be applied to jealousies within the pecking orders of our churches, I believe it was designed to speak about wealth and economic privilege. Wealthy recipients of God’s material gifts have a responsibility to be like the landowner, value the poor and the unemployed and raise their self esteem.
We are too quick to place ourselves in the world’s pecking order, instead of seeing ourselves as God sees us.
The landowner overturned expectations as Jesus does by saying, “The first will be last and the last first.” Our spiritual, mental and material gifts come from God. Whilst we are all equally loved by him, we are not equally gifted or able. Those judged to be the least in our worldly system may be judged great in the Kingdom of God where our pretentions count for nothing. God wants to see all of us living fruitful lives, working in his vineyard.
Jonah hated the Assyrians. They were his nation’s violent, cruel, powerful enemies. He ran away to sunny Spain to avoid delivering the message of judgement that God sent him to proclaim.
We Who When we look at the desperation of Syrian refugees, devastation in Yemen and the predicament of modern day Nineveh in Northern Iraq which suffered much at the hands of Islamic State in the last ten years, we can understand why Jonah didn’t go.
Jonah had earlier declared that "deliverance belongs to the Lord,", a deliverance he experienced when the fish spewed him onto dry land, yet he God’s generosity towards Nineveh.
Eventually obedient, the residents of Nineveh, repented and God turned from his anger against them. Jonah was so angry he behaved like a spoilt child wanting God to take his life.
Jonah complains " I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing," Surely there cannot be salvation for the residents of Nineveh?
Jonah learnt that God’s generosity and forgiveness extends even to evil non Jewish regimes.
God calls us all into his vineyard to be co-workers with him.
In our daily lives at work and at home, we are called to reflect Kingdom values of extraordinary generosity and love, proclaiming Jesus to those we look down upon and or see as our enemies.
Jesus showed this amazing generosity by loving his enemies and dying for us on the cross.
Let’s be thankful for God’s generous gifts today, treat everyone we meet the same way, as equal to us, and be happy when we see others blessed. Instead of comparing ourselves to others, may God help us to be generous towards them in our thoughts, words and deeds.