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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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June Nettles Clark CS
September 5, 2016 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

Linda Bulla
Linda Bulla
September 5, 2016 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

jackie Ives
jackie Ives
September 5, 2016 3:18 pm

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

Bonnie Bartalos
Bonnie Bartalos
September 5, 2016 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.

Robin Kadz
Robin Kadz
September 5, 2016 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!

Marcia t.H.
Marcia t.H.
September 5, 2016 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.


September 5, 2016 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!)

Pam Gasteen
Pam Gasteen
September 6, 2016 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… Read more »

September 6, 2016 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

Patricia Stewart
Patricia Stewart
September 9, 2016 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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