Monday, March 6 Lent Calendar* Invite: Read a parable of Jesus: The Vineyard Laborers, Matthew 20:1-16.
Each Monday in Lent, we are invited to read a parable of Jesus. The week’s parable is “The Vineyard Laborers.” Before digging into this story, take a moment to remember last Tuesday’s challenge on the Lent calendar: “fast from whining or complaining.” The parable of the vineyard workers is one that causes its fair share of whining and complaining. When reading the story, you can hear the grumbling tone, “That’s not fair!”
I hear that statement frequently where I serve as campus pastor. Almost every time I hear the complaint, “that’s not fair,” it is not actually because something wasn’t fair. For instance, a student recently went to Disneyland for their birthday. Another student said, “That’s not fair they got to go to Disneyland!” I asked, “Why is that not fair?” The student replied, “Because I didn’t get to go!”
I get the sentiment. Sometimes life seems so unfair and sometimes it really is. Yet often when we say that statement, it comes from a place of self-centeredness instead of a place of grace or justice.
If your response to this parable is “that’s not fair,” I invite you to think about why you feel that way. Is it because you identify with the laborer who worked from the start of the day so feel that you should get more pay than the laborer that worked for only an hour? Is it because you would label yourself a “hard worker” and the other laborer as “lazy?”
According to biblical scholarship, laziness is not at issue here. Laborers would awake in the morning and wait in the market to be hired. All of them wanted to work. But a desire to work does not necessarily equate to being picked for the job. Jesus says that the vineyard owner went to the market at various times in the day and hired workers. The workers did not work the same hours, that is true. But neither did they get to pick their hours. The vineyard owner decided to pay them all the same wage, a very fair wage, in that it was enough to provide for a family for a day. From our typical modern day cultural view, you can see how this doesn’t seem quite right. Why would those who worked longer get the same pay as those who only worked the last shift? But God’s economy is not the same as our economy. In God’s economy, all people have enough.
This past weekend, I was reading a news article about housing in Ventura County where I live. The article stated, “Middle-income families, seniors surviving on Social Security, and college students struggling to support themselves are trapped by rental rates that are immune to gravity. They only go up.” As I read the article, I couldn’t help but think of Jesus’ story of the workers in the vineyard. I could boast that we worked hard and got into the housing market at the right time. But if I think I am more deserving of adequate housing than the stories of struggling families that were told in that news article, I probably need to dwell more on the graciousness and generosity of God.
Ultimately, this story is about our gracious and generous God, our God who wants everyone to have enough, our God who doesn’t want to exclude anyone, but make sure everyone gets an invitation to the good and beautiful life. Today, ponder what comes up for you when you read this parable. Then dwell on the words “gracious” and “generous.” How might God be speaking to you?