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Happy Labor Day — Vineyard Workers!


Parable of the Vineyard Workers, Rembrandt

Since Americans are celebrating “Labor Day” the first Monday of September– a federal holiday established in 1894 to highlight the economic achievements of American workers– it’s a perfect time to look at Jesus’ parable about the Laborers in the Vineyard.  It’s told in both Matt. 20:1-16 and Mark 10:17-31.

This is a head-scratcher if approached in a typical way of what’s a fair wage, given that several groups of workers are hired at different times on the same day.  But at the end of the day, the parable explains they’re paid the same wage, including those who arrived quite late and did only a small amount of work compared to those hired first.

I can only imagine what the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers’ Union would have to say about this!

How easily we identify with those first workers who weren’t paid ‘equitably’.  “What’s up with that”, we ask?  Perhaps the parable confronts the whole notion of ‘earning’ God’s love vs. simply receiving it.  Like the sun that pours its light without bias on every mountain, flower and garden, so the Gospel’s message of God’s enduring, inclusive and ever-present love pours out for everyone — newcomer and latecomer combined.

Perhaps the parable is a lesson about resentment and how to eradicate it from our thought about others. Matt. 20.vs. 9-12 speaks to this.   Those early workers didn’t initially begrudge the wages later workers received.  They just thought they’d receive more.

When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 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.’ (NRSV)

It’s not like the first group of workers were cheated.  They were paid according to their negotiated contract.  Isn’t that ‘just’?

But the late workers were paid by grace – by the lovely, unexpected showering of God’s generous love (seen through the actions of the landowner).

The early church of Matthew might have thought of the parable in light of Jews and Gentiles, the former being those who arrived ‘early’ and the latter, those who came to the Good News later.

Today the parable might make us ask:  “Am I truly happy for those who seem to have quick responses to prayer over their problems when I’ve been praying for resolution to mine for a very long time?  Or am I grateful for those who seem to make speedy spiritual progress when I’m in more of a plodding mode, even though I’ve been working at this a lot longer then they have!   What’s ‘fair’ about that?”

At the end, the landowner is now called “Lord” (20:8) in the KJV translation, and he pays those hired last, first.

So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the laborers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first.

Is it Jesus’ way of teaching us that there is no bargaining with the ‘Lord’, God?  That the ‘rules’ God plays by are love and grace for everyone, regardless.  That this Kingdom of heaven at hand has different protocols than human fairness, and that we need to start thinking out from those divine statues.

Once again Jesus teaches that following mere cultural values and practices aren’t enough when it comes to being Christ-like, following Christ Jesus’ example.

Happy Labor Day, all you vineyard workers!

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13 Responses to Happy Labor Day — Vineyard Workers!

  1. June Nettles Clark CS September 5, 2016 at 2:51 pm #

    I love the fact that I now have the dots filled in about this story.
    thank you

    June Clark, CS
    Mobile, Alabama

  2. Linda Bulla September 5, 2016 at 3:08 pm #

    Wow, did that hit home. I am one of those who have plodded along for years, sometimes, and more than you might imagine, begrudging others for their success and quick healing in Christian Science, their happy families or their careers. But what I must remember, that when I begrudge I am not loving, and when I am not loving I am not making progress. Thanks for the reminder that the rules God plays by are love and grace for everyone. Linda Bulla

  3. jackie Ives September 5, 2016 at 3:18 pm #

    WOW! Thanks for that great indepth explaination of that pesky and challenging parable.

  4. Bonnie Bartalos September 5, 2016 at 4:23 pm #

    Madeline – thanks for sharing this parable and your spiritual insight. It’s wonderful. Love is never measurable but only continues to grow without boundaries. We rejoice for each one whose thought opens to the beauty and fullness of Love.

  5. Robin Kadz September 5, 2016 at 4:39 pm #

    Bravo Madelon! Thanks for the spiritual insights! Excellent as usual! Having an interest in economics, I always appreciate the more metaphysical perspective, the healing one!

  6. Marcia t.H. September 5, 2016 at 5:23 pm #

    Thank you Madelon!

    I love how you link the spiritual concept of the Master’s teachings/ parable with our present observation of “Labor Day” , which we will do us much good if we start observing it more than once a year.


  7. Terry September 5, 2016 at 8:14 pm #

    Thank you for opening up this wonderful story with your rich insight.

    I couldn’t help but think about Jesus saying, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged:” (Luke 6:37). I often feel that our culture expects and encourages us to judge everyone and everything. Instead of being grateful for what was received from God, they were passing judgment on his generosity. ( Hmm-I will have to take a look under my own hood!)

    • Madelon September 9, 2016 at 5:14 am #

      Thank you, Terry! And I suspect Jesus wanted ALL of us to be looking under our ‘hoods’ with this one. 🙂

      • Michelle September 11, 2016 at 10:49 am #

        Again you clarify with wisdom and laser intelligence this wonderful humbling parable. Thank you madelon

  8. Pam Gasteen September 6, 2016 at 12:35 am #

    Re the vineyard. I have always thought very simply about this parable and perhaps not very deeply about the wages side of it.
    To explain.
    I have always thought of the vineyard as representing the Kingdom of Heaven. Available to all as God’s gift to His children. So no matter what time or what hour you enter that Kingdom – once inside you receive all that the Kingdom includes. All the Love, Life, Truth, Intelligence etc etc – all of God’s qualities are our inheritance for entering that Kingdom of Love.
    A bit like the Father talking with the resentful son in the Prodigal story. ” All that I have is thine because thou art ever with me.
    Do correct me if I am on the wrong track..
    Of course the wages bit in my story tells you that all your needs are met in the Kingdom of Heaven. You just have to enter. If you receive “all” then you do stay in that atmosphere of divine Love…….who wants to leave that mental consciousness of harmony. Etc.
    With love
    Pam Gasteen
    Qld . Australia.p

    • Madelon September 9, 2016 at 5:18 am #

      Thank you so much for sharing your insights — maybe ‘simple’ to you but spiritually profound to others. They are certainly confirmed by Jesus’ oft-repeated comment about ‘the kingdom of heaven is at hand’. The issue of unfairness is, for me, with its contrast of God providing ALL, is one of Jesus’ key points. Doesn’t that come only when we compare ourselves to others–something even Shakespeare warned us against. “Comparisons are odious”, or ‘odorous’ as one contemporary interpreter quipped! Thank you again for reading BibleRoads from your beautiful country.

  9. Barbara September 6, 2016 at 2:53 pm #

    Thank you Madelon, for the broader view. It is a relief to me not to have any feeling of injustice about the pay received. In fact, I can now rejoice that the newcomers are so welcomed. Much gratitude as usual. Barbara

  10. Patricia Stewart September 9, 2016 at 3:06 am #

    Thank you very much for this inspiration. I especially latched on to the one in comparing Jews and Gentiles as possible illustrations of the teaching. Maybe we can even apply it to today’s thoughts between Jew and Christian. We know Mrs Eddy gave the way to solve that one. Only grace is needed.

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