Thursday, October 20, 2022

You First? No, God First: The Disgruntled Workers (II)

 Let's do a quick review!

We have just been unpacking the parable of the workers in the vineyard, who despite being hired at different times of the day, receive the same pay, in Matthew 20:

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.  About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.  He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

 ‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

 He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’  The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner.

‘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?’

So the last will be first, and the first will be last.  (Matt. 20:1-6)

After His resurrection, Jesus taught His followers deeply from the Scriptures, as He has sought to do throughout His ministry, but now it had an urgency: 

'This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.'

Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, 'This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.' (Luke 24:44-9)

In other words, the whole sweep of the Old Testament applies to the Messiah, and He is the Anointed One. He connected the scriptural dots, and with the advent of the Holy Spirit, these men and women went out and turned the world upside down.

He is also the fulfillment of the covenant to King David. He is the King who will reign forever, out of the house of David. So, tucked away in this parable, could there be a veiled reference to a story that happened to David and his men?

In 1 Samuel 30, David and his men are waging war on the Amalekites. These unpleasant folks had raided an area and took away the wives and children of David and his men. The men and David are utterly shocked, and cry to where "they had no strength to weep." Their anguish turns to anger with David, and they consider killing him, but "David found strength in the LORD his God." He seeks of God whether or not he should pursue this raiding party, and receives the divine green light.

He gathers his 600 men, and away they go. Some 200 stay behind at the ravine, for they "were too exhausted to cross the ravine." No worries--David heads out with his 400. They happen upon an Egyptian slave, left behind in a field by an Amalekite when he grew ill. David feeds him and this man leads him and his men to where the raiding party is.

David wins the day and recovers all that had been taken. As he is returning, some malcontents say that the plunder shouldn't be shared among the men who stayed behind. They should receive back only their family members.

David's response is quite similar to the words of the vineyard owner in the parable: 

'No, my brothers, you must not do that with what the Lord has given us. He has protected us and delivered into our hands the raiding party that came against us. Who will listen to what you say? The share of the man who stayed with the supplies is to be the same as that of him who went down to the battle. All will share alike.' (1 Sam. 30:23-24)

Notice that David is effectively the "owner" of the plunder and has the right to distribute the goodies as he sees fit; the owner of the vineyard in the parable can pay the workers what he chooses. It is God's plunder, as David reminds everyone.

Jesus implies that the vineyard is the Lord's as well.

Coincidence? I think not. What we have here are unemployed vineyard workers and men who were emotionally exhausted...not involved from the word "go," but still part of the community. This is a community where preferences are not given. Fairness is the hallmark of the Kingdom of God, and it was exemplified in David's attitude towards his men, and the vineyard owner's attitude to the late-comers.

It is this equality that is so unlike the world and how it sees things. Even those who are religious get testy when the "least of these" receives high praise from Jesus. Remember the disciples and their reaction to the children brought before Jesus?

In the parable, the owner distributed the wages equally to all. The malcontents say, "‘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.’" Yes, in the world's economy, they deserve more. But not so in the Kingdom of God. The owner says, "Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’" Ouch.

It was King David's plunder and it was the owner's vineyard, but all of it was ultimately in the hands of God. We need to shift away from the values of the world that say that those who do more deserve more. And yet, how many people complain about all of the wealth and resources being in the hands of the few? The few would argue they deserve it, because they have worked hard; they were born to it; they are entitled to it because of their superior intelligence.

But in the Kingdom, we are God's children, all standing equal before Him not because of anything we have done, but because of what He did for us. The plunder and the pay are ours because of His Son and His willingness to die for the good, the bad and the ugly.

Those who are exhausted, tired, late, or early are all invited to come.

Why? He paid the price of admission. We just walk in with joy and thankfulness for His bounty and pull up a chair.

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