Sunday 18 September 2011

Matthew 20:1-16

A sermon I shared this morning at a 9:30 congregation.
The first half of the service is all-age.
The second half lasts about 20 minutes, with 5-8 minutes for the WORD section. Aimed at adults.
Not modelling this as 'good' sermon, but one I enjoyed writing and preaching.

PRAYER: Lord God, let my words be your words and our thoughts your thoughts. AMEN.

Page 987 in pew Bibles. Matthew 20:1-16

The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. That’s what my Bible calls this parable, a name that wasn’t given by Jesus as he was talking to his disciples, a later added name for the parable: but this parable could so easily be called,

The parable of the grumpy, whinging, grumbling workers.

Or the parable of the really, overtly generous landowner.

But my preferred title would be, “the parable of the two kingdoms”.

Because really, that is what this parable is about.

A choice.

A decision.

There are two kingdoms: which one will you align yourself with?

God’s Kingdom in all its unexpected, confusing, grace-filled, extravagant and yet humble glory.


Humanity’s kingdom in all its predictable mundanity.

Our reading opens with the words of Jesus.

“For the Kingdom of heaven is like....”

That’s a pretty big clue,

A big clue that what Jesus is going to talk about isn’t just about a particular situation relating to employment contracts and workers rights and the ethics of agricultural labour.

As it happens, it is about those things: but it’s also about so much more.

From the outset we the reader, and the disciples, the original hearers are given a choice.

“What is it going to be, God’s way, or another way?”

‘The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out....’

The choice is really simple for us. Jesus makes it clear.

The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner.

Whatever the landowner is about to do.

That’s what the kingdom of heaven is like.

As it happens the landowner acts generously,

Not just to the people he hired at 5pm, an hour before work finished at 6pm.

But to ALL the workers.

The landowner is generous to the folk who have worked all day because he pays them that same day, something that didn’t always happen – often people had to wait until the next morning.

And the landowner is generous to the folk who have worked all day because he pays them what he promised to pay them, again, something that didn’t always happen.

The landowner pays them their one denarius – not a huge amount, but critically, enough to get by on.

Not enough to get rich.

But enough to live that day.

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven, give us today our daily bread....

Is that generous?

To earn just enough to live on?

Is this parable saying pay people the bare minimum?


It’s saying pay what is agreed and what is recognised as fair.

Because in Jesus’ times,

Just as now,

Day labouring is pretty tough.

Lines of people still queue up in Tanzania to work on farms for the day.

Or in South America, to mine for precious metals for a day.

Whether we get it or not,

In Jesus’ day, day labourers were worse off than slaves.

If you owned a slave you wanted to make sure they were fed and watered, that they stayed healthy.

But day labourers?

If they can’t afford food, or medicine, or shelter... and they get sick, or hungry,

You hired someone else.

So the landowner is generous to the folk who’ve worked all day.


And the landowner is generous to the folk who have worked part of the day.


And the landowner is generous to the folk who have only worked an hour.

And not just because they get paid a days wages.

But because they get paid at all.

The landowner is generous to these people in three ways.

The first way the landowner is generous is that he hires them at all. Typically the landowner hires the people he needs early in the morning. If he needs 30 labourers, he hires thirty labourers in the morning.

But this landowner keeps coming back to hire more.

And not because his vineyard has suddenly grown during the day.

Or because his work force weren’t coping.

But because he is generous.

The second way the landowner is generous is that he hires these people at all.

Who is normally left un-hired? Those who are unable to work.

The sick, the elderly.

In other words, the desperate.

And how can we know they were desperate?

Because they were still there waiting for work at five pm.

You have to be pretty desperate and seriously lacking in options to still be waiting for work when the vineyard is pretty much ready to shut down for the night.

Why are the workers who worked all day so annoyed that these late-comers get the same pay?

Because they didn’t do the same amount of work.

But more importantly, because the landowner treated these newcomers as the equals of those who worked all day.

Their equals.

These people.

The sick.

The elderly.

‘For the kingdom of heaven is like...’

The third way the landowner is generous is that the landowner goes to the market place to hire his own staff.

The landowner does this.

I’m pretty sure that when Richard Branson wants to hire some more train cleaners he doesn’t go down to the job centre himself.

And it’s the same principle 2000 years ago.

The landowner would normally have sent a servant down to the marketplace.

But the landowner himself goes down to the marketplace.

‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who...’

Where have we heard that before?

Of someone being so concerned about what is going on, that they go themselves.

Or perhaps they send their son.

And the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit that remains with us, even now.

‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who...’

And so we’re left with a stark choice.

The kingdom of humanity.


Or the kingdom of God.

The kingdom of humanity where we really want to grumble at all the perceived injustices we encounter.

Where people around us seem to be treated the same.

Even late comers.

Even the broken. (mock shock)

How easily do we do this?


Or we chose the kingdom of God.

God is generous.

God always leans towards generosity.


It’s who God is.

So how will we respond when we see God’s generosity.

Will we grumble and be envious.

Or will we celebrate God’s generosity, in all its splendour?

‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who...’

Let’s Pray: Lord, let your generosity reign in our hearts, let us learn to love like you love, let us learn to give like you give. Let us learn to live as your son Jesus Christ lived. AMEN.


the Jog said...

Great post god's-lonely-man - and I like the blog design. It's interesting how words turn isn't it? For me "humanity" is a great virtue. I would be very happy to live in a kingdom ruled by humanity. It's the sub-humanity which troubles me and the apple cart. What does Bonhoeffer say?

BeatLiturgist said...

Thanks David. Appreciate the comment. It is indeed interesting how the meaning of words and the implications of their meanings move and grow, not always in good ways.