Did you hear the one about the workers?


Matthew 20:1-16 …

The parable of the Workers

For many of us we have heard this story since we were children and that is our problem. We think we know the story. So we are quick to pass over it. But what if this story was more than a great moral lesson?

What if the story contained a Gift from God?

I think we miss the gift (just like the disciples) because we listen to them without hearing them thru the lens of Easter and and an empty tomb.

Many of Jesus’ parables are counter-cultural. They present a world or a “kingdom” that is radically different from what those that listened knew. The kingdom of God that Jesus describes in this story is vastly different from our world. Perhaps brought to light by recent events, empty shelves, panic shopping, and the I was here first mentality.

And while this is a simple story and definitely counter-cultural. Let’s not forget that the story isn’t hard to understand:

At six a.m. a vineyard owner goes down to the local temp workers center and hires a crew to help with the grape harvest. He agrees to pay them the fair wage of one denarius for a day’s work—six a.m. to six p.m.

By nine a.m. he sees he needs more workers and brings on another crew. He adds more workers at noon and again at three in the afternoon.

In fact the harvest is so good, he even brings on fresh additional workers at five p.m., which means they’ll only work for an hour, but he needs them.

The parable’s unsettling sting comes when it’s time to pay the workers. To everyone’s surprise, those who came at six a.m. and those who came at five p.m. all get paid the same wages—the one denarius as promised at the beginning of the day.

Everybody gets the same.

Naturally the six a.m. crew who had put in a full day of work were upset. They expected to get paid more especially after they saw the latecomers get paid generously.

They naturally expected more! Instead, everyone got the same.

It is not a coincidence that Matthew places this story just moments after Peter asks Jesus a question, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have? Mt 19:27.

In other words,

Jesus, we’ve given up everything to work for you. What do we get in return?

Jesus responds with a very generous promise, including eternal life, but he also turns things upside down by saying, many who are first will be last, and the last first.

AND Then JESUS tells a story and the story likely did not sit well with the listeners. After all this story isn’t the way we operate or think. Everyone got the same pay, even the ones who just got to work an hour ago?

WE would shout – Ever hear of equal pay for equal work?

We would get upset.

We would demand what we deserve.

We would want paid more!

BUT then the vineyard 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?’

And that changes things. It changes everything because

Jesus is trying to teach us something about God,

And I have to be honest at this point we don’t like what Jesus is teaching us. This lesson is a different arrangement – focused not on our rights or privileges. This lesson doesn’t speak to our notion of what is just or fair.

But isn’t that God’s prerogative? And since God is God, and we’re not, we don’t get to question how God distributes the riches of the kingdom.

So workers late to the vineyard find their place with those their all day and the thief on the cross beside Jesus comes into the kingdom in his last hour the same as Peter.

YEP ….. God’s grace is unfair alright, Unfair because none of us, no, not one of us, deserves what we have been given by grace.

It’s simple …. we could never earn what God gives us.

God just chooses in love to gives it all to us. God chooses because of grace to give each of us all of it. What is it? — forgiveness, hope, peace, security.

And it isn’t fair – not one bit!

Let me remind you how UNFAIR and UNJUST God’s grace is … God’s economy of grace is so unjust that his own perfect Son, Jesus Christ, gets rejection, ridicule, torture and death as his pay “at the end of the day”.

Jesus gets what WE deserve.

That is Jesus’ compensation for a lifetime of perfect obedience, and it isn’t fair, but it is God’s choice, not ours.

So, this gift of grace should move us To Serve someone. To Love a child. To Give more than we ever dreamed we could. Why? because that is how God has treated you.

WE have been given the gift of grace – a gift that is leveling, unsettling and amazingly generous. That gift of grace was given to us through the life and death of Jesus Christ …

An undeserved gift … available equally to each of us

And that gift is revealed in this story of the workers in the vineyard.

And the gift of grace is story worth telling over and over and over again.


I am a United Methodist Pastor and have the privilege of serving as the Senior Pastor for the church of my childhood. I preach in a place I once was an acolyte. I love to preach, but more importantly I love to teach. I firmly believe that Faith Matters and should affect how we live. This blog is a place where I come to share the randomness that is life and faith ... and the intersection of the two.

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