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, 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.

Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 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 the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Matthew 20:1-16

I don’t know about everywhere else but I know that in a city like Houston it is easy to find day laborers. Home Depot parking lots are just about automatic. Gas stations in other parts of town. Every day they are there. It is hard for me to see them late in the afternoon. Hard to imagine anyone heading home empty handed. From their point of view, the owner of the vineyard was a great boss.

Well…except for those who worked all day and expected a bonus.

We still haven’t hired a contractor to rebuild my daughter’s house after Harvey. The hurricane is still very real to her as her home sits reduced to 2×4’s and concrete. I talked to a friend of mine who is in the business. He told me he couldn’t estimate the cost because he has no control over the costs of labor or supplies. Everything is more expensive. He said, “I used to pay $120 a day for a guy to hang sheetrock; now they won’t touch it for less than $500.” So there you go. You can’t blame them. Supply and demand. The invisible hand at work.

My sense is that the original hearers of this parable also first heard it from the point of view of eking out a living one daily job at a time. Working for bosses who may or may not pay them. Working without any recourse or protection. Hanging on to life by a thread.

And then came the wonder at the deeper meaning of the story. That God is a generous landowner, paying not what we are owed but always providing what we need. That God’s economy of love and justice seems so backward, so upside down, compared to the way the “real” world really works.

Except…even when it comes to running a business, treating employees with justice works out better over the long haul than using and abusing people like pawns whose only value is making a buck.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, everything we have, everything we are, everything we need, comes from you. You plant us in a garden of abundance. You give us enough. Yet we want more. We create a myth of scarcity without realizing how much that costs everyone. Help us trust your love today, one day at a time, and open our hearts to those who barely get by. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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