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Reward?? Wages??

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Luke 20:1‘So you see,’ Jesus continued, ‘the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2He agreed with the workers to give them a day’s wage, and sent them off to his vineyard. 3‘He went out again in the middle of the morning, and saw some others standing in the marketplace with nothing to do. 4‘“You too can go to the vineyard,” he said, “and I’ll give you what’s right.” 5So off they went. ‘He went out again about midday, and then in the middle of the afternoon, and did the same. 6Then, with only an hour of the day left, he went out and found other people standing there. ‘“Why are you standing here all day with nothing to do?” he asked them. 7‘“Because no one has hired us,” they replied. ‘“Well,” he said, “you too can go into the vineyard.” 8‘When evening came, the vineyard-owner said to his servant, “Call the workers and give them their pay. Start with the last, and go on to the first.” 9‘So the ones who had worked for one hour came, and each of them received a day’s wage. 10When the first ones came, they thought they would get something more; but they, too, each received a day’s wage. 11‘When they had been given it, they grumbled against the landowner. 12“This lot who came in last”, they said, “have only worked for one hour–and they’ve been put on a level with us! And we did all the hard work, all day, and in the heat as well!” 13‘“My friend,” he said to one of them, “I’m not doing you any wrong. You agreed with me on one day’s wage, didn’t you? 14Take it! It’s yours! And be on your way. I want to give this fellow who came at the end the same as you. 15Or are you suggesting that I’m not allowed to do what I like with my own money? Or are you giving me the evil eye because I’m good?” 16‘So those at the back will be at the front, and the front ones at the back.’

An insight by Bailey suggests that the proud landowners of Jesus’s era would never go into the commoners’ marketplace looking for day laborers. The landowner of this parable does just that. The typical landowner would always send someone else to go looking for workers.

These workers were out in the marketplace looking to get hired for that day. They needed money to provide for that day and then they’d return to the marketplace the next day and pray that someone else would come looking to hire them. They had to get food for themselves and possibly a large family. To return home without having received money for the day would obviously be demoralizing and humiliating. These workers were like the rest of us, wanting to be able providers and feel the pride of having supplied the daily needs. They needed validation.

However, in the parable that Jesus tells here in Luke 20:1-16 we find an imbalance. Some workers are working less and receiving wages equal to that of those who’ve spent the entire day working hard. It appears as though the landowner is being unfair. After all, most of us today are paid by the hour. If we don’t receive what is due then we have a problem. The imbalance or unfairness we seem to hear about here is obviously for a reason. The disciples have left all to follow Jesus and are expecting a great reward. If they don’t receive it, they’ll feel like they were fooled about all of that talk about twelve thrones. How many of us would leave our current job, family or career and pin our hopes on a revolutionary, whom we would expect to be the leader of our nation? There is obvious risk involved and we would feel that any risk we took would need to be rewarded handsomely. Yet, as usual, Jesus twists his tale and exposes the heart of the disciples and Matthew includes this as an opportunity to expose the heart of many in the early church. The disciples and the church that followed were sensing celebrity status in their near future. They were chosen by the King after all. This is where the imbalance comes in.

The landowner (remember how unusual this would be) is seen going out into the marketplace at the last hour. He apparently finds other workers still standing there desperate to find work. Moved with compassion the landowner hires them and agrees to give them an entire day’s wage. The landowner is seen as 1) humble, because he goes out into the marketplace himself, and 2) incredibly compassionate and generous because he seeks to dignify the unwanted laborers.

It’s no mistake that the landowner had his servant pay those who were chosen last before any of the others. Perhaps, he knows he’ll stir up the ire of the other laborers and in fact, wants to. This becomes an opportunity to display his generosity to everyone. All of the workers were chosen and they agreed to a day’s wage. This was an act of generosity by the landowner who seems to take pleasure in including everyone. He, personally, came to the marketplace and did the choosing. Even though some of the laborers cried foul over what they thought was unjust pay they are reminded of their agreement with the landowner. It was the landowner’s good pleasure to send everyone home to their families with a day’s wage. The landowner dignified and validated each worker.

The lesson comes to the disciples who think that the Kingdom of Heaven will afford them a position of privilege. They have forgotten how they were chosen and how God will lavish grace upon each of them as He will all in Israel who agree to come ‘work’ for Jesus. God is the landowner and Israel becomes the group of common day workers in the vineyard. The lesson comes to us as well. We have made a covenant with God through Jesus. God gives us everything we need and we promise God all of our work. The Kingdom of Heaven won’t give us celebrity status or a place of privilege, even though we can easily find ourselves feeling as though we deserve this kind of reward. What we can actually begin to say is that God is lucky to have us. Those of us who preach or teach, or find ourselves in the inner circles of church life can begin to develop an attitude like the disciples. We can begin to see ourselves as a type of celebrity, looking forward to the red carpet treatment, all while Jesus, the humble and loving King, continues searching in the common marketplace for those everyone else is ignoring.

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