Short Stories by Jesus: The Laborers in the Vineyard

November 5, 2017
by Rev. Melanie Homan

      LHUMC 11-5-2017 Sermon

View, print or save PDF: Sermon.11.05.17.The Laborers in the Vineyard

(Short Stories by Jesus Sermon Series)

“The Laborers in the Vineyard”

November 5, 2017

Rev. Melanie Homan

Matthew 20:1-16  “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage,[a] he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage.[b] 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage.[c] 11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 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.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?[d] 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’[e] 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”[f]

The Laborers in the Vineyard. Upon first reading this parable, I can see why the people who spent the whole day working are upset that they didn’t get more than the people who only worked an hour.  If I work a 12 hour day and someone else works a 1 hour day, I’m not going to be happy about getting the same amount of money.  It’s not FAIR.  There is an economics of “fairness” at play here.  We push for fairness, especially when it comes to gender equity and pay.  It isn’t fair to pay some people more than others, based on their gender or age.  We are striving for things like income equality and fairness in the professional workplace, but only to a certain point.  Because at the same time there are countless numbers of people working multiple minimum wage jobs just to pay their rent.  And they don’t have anything left to by food.  We serve them every week at the Joyce Food Shelf.

In this parable, Jesus is trying to teach us something about the reign of God. In the kingdom of heaven, the economy is not based on perceived fairness – it is based on need.  You get what you need, rather than what you feel you “deserve” or are entitled to receive.  In this parable, “the landowner makes sure that every worker ends the day with the dignity and security of a living wage – and the capacity to go home that night and feed their families.”[i] “The point is not that those who have ‘get more,’ but that those who have not ‘get enough’.”[ii]

If God is the landowner in this parable, we likely see ourselves as the ones who get up bright and early, and work from the moment our feet hit the ground in the morning. There’s a small part of us that feels entitled to God’s generosity in response to our efforts.  The landowner says, “Are you envious because I am so generous?”  Yes.  Our answer is sometimes – Yes.  Well, if God’s generosity offends us so much, it’s probably because we don’t have eyes to see where we actually stand in the line of workers.[iii] We are incredibly blessed because we ALWAYS receive more than we “deserve”.  We ALWAYS benefit from the generosity of God because God gives us what we need and not what we merit on our own.

Which is really good news. Even if we don’t think it seems fair.

Today, we remember the living saints among us and the saints who have died. When we think about someone being a “saint”, we often equate that with being “perfect”. In reality, saints are normal people like you and me, who have faithfully lived and served and loved God the best that they could.  Our saints are people who did pretty amazing things with their lives – but, they also had moments of royally messing up and falling short of their own ideals.  Our generous God offered each of them what they needed, not what they had “earned”. They received the “wages of grace”. This morning, when we light a candle to remember Wilford, Jane, John, MaryLou, Donnie, Ann, John, Catherine, Jerry, and Patricia, we give thanks that the kingdom of heaven is based on an economy of grace.

Albert Einstein wrote, “A hundred times a day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depend on the labors of other people, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the full measure I have received and am still receiving.” What a glorious gift it is to be reminded of how much of our lives depend on the efforts and generosity of those who have come before us.  One of the reasons that we get up each day and work as hard as we can, in our own version of the vineyard, is to honor all that we have received from the saints in our lives.  Then we offer our own selves to God, trusting that those who come after us will benefit from our efforts.

Jan Richardson reminds us, in these days of remembering the saints, that the veil thins not only towards the past, but also toward the future. She asks, “Who lingers close in your memory?  Who walked with you in a way that inspired and made possible the path that you travel?” Give thanks for them, and when you come forward to receive communion, light a candle in remembrance of them.  Also, ask yourself an equally important question:  “How are you walking through this life in a way that will help make possible the paths of those who follow?”[iv]

Hear this blessing from Jan as we light candles to remember our saints.

For those who walked with us, this is a prayer.

For those who have gone ahead, this is a blessing.

For those who touched and tended us, who lingered with us while they lived, this is a thanksgiving.

For those who journey still with us in the shadows of awareness, in the crevices of memory, in the landscape of our dreams, this is a benediction.



[i] Journey with Jesus, “A Troubling Generosity”.

[ii] Levine, Amy-Jill, Short Stories by Jesus, page 235.

[iii] Journey with Jesus, “A Troubling Generosity”.

[iv] Richardson, Jan.