May 7, 2024

JD Wilhelm
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.”
Matthew 20:1-16

Each of us possesses an inner drive for justice. This is most often expressed in our ideas about fairness. Throughout our lifetime, we develop specific ways of defining what is good or right; when our standard is not met, we get upset. We want justice! Here is the problem with fairness: it is subjective. My definition of fair differs from someone else’s, which inevitably leads to conflict. If we were the laborers who worked a full day and saw the person who only worked the last hour of the day get paid the same as us, we, too, would get upset! It certainly doesn’t feel just. It is essential to recognize that in this parable, what is just isn’t defined subjectively by the worker but objectively by the master of the house. The landowner declares he can do whatever he wants because he gives what belongs to him. The first hired should not envy the last hired because of the landowner’s generosity. Through this parable, Jesus makes it unmistakably clear what it means for the last to be first and the first to be last. Stanley Hauerwas makes the important observation that “commentators on the parable emphasize the impartiality of God’s grace implied by the landowner’s mode of payment. But it is not impartiality that characterizes God’s grace in this parable, but rather the sheer abundance of God’s grace.” God’s love cannot be used up. It is extravagant. Grace is given in spite of ourselves, not because of ourselves. God’s grace is the grace of truth. It refuses to hide from us the character of our envy of those whom we define as undeserving. This parable exemplifies God’s justice for us.