All that’s Fair and Who is Good

In Matthew 20, the parable of the vineyard workers, Jesus tells a story about what God’s heart and the world under God’s reign and rule (read: kingdom) is like.

For context, all of chapter 20 is a lesson in humility. First this parable, then Jesus’ admission of the ever-more-imminent suffering and death in his future, next, a mom clamoring for status for her sons in the hierarchy that she believes might dominate even the ranks of Jesus’ disciples, and finally, the only people who have eyes to see (heads to understand and souls that believe) are blind people! For Jesus the teacher, this is an exhausting chapter- hadn’t anyone been listening at all in the previous 19 chapters?!

Concentrating within the vineyard worker parable in 20:1-16, I love the challenges and the revelation of Jesus’ upside down way to run a business, work a job, view our peers, and drop the scales.

Matthew 20- Upside Down and Inside Out

Invitation via Pursuit…

The landowner heads to the marketplace to invite workers to his field. He goes FOUR different times, extending the invitation for work. The workers don’t have to come begging at his door- he goes to them.

Work that’s more than Work…

When the workers go to the vineyard, they receive promise of “a fair day’s wage” as well as purpose and community. When he invites the last workers (verse 6 and 7), I hear him saying, “I don’t need you as much as you need this…go and work with your hands, join the others- be a part of something bigger than yourself that’s creating something. We shouldn’t work alone. Come, join in”

Payment with a Purpose…

In verse 8, the landowner clearly directs the foreman to pay the workers their wage by paying the last ones hired first, and then the earliest ones hired, last. Everyone will know what others are being paid- a socially unacceptable move today- we don’t ask each other how much we make. You’ll find out why in the next verses…

When it becomes clear ALL workers will be paid the SAME EXACT AMOUNT, the longest tenured workers are outraged- they were paid for a whole day the same as people who worked for one hour!?! It’s not fair!

I’m with the workers on this one. I get that this is a story about God’s kingdom, and I know it’s upside down, different than our world, but I’m right-brain dominate, type A, transactional in my thinking, and more truth than grace generally, so I read this and think, “This is not right. It makes NO sense.”  In America’s free market economy, which honors hard work and personal productivity, this is nonsensical. My mind is blown, my insides are twisty.  You simply cannot pay everyone the same- it doesn’t add up.

What is Fair and Who is Good?…

The longest workers are admonished by the landowner: called out for being jealous, envious, and for making a judgment call that wasn’t theirs to make. He rebuffs their protest and refuses to give any legitimacy to their claim of unfairness.

It is not up to the workers to decide what is fair or to rank the efforts and contributions of others. The heart of the landowner is revealed, and he doesn’t weigh things on the world’s scale. Worth and dignity are not handed out only to those who work the hardest, but to those who are picked last.

The long, hard workers have a choice- harbor bitterness? or choose to trust? Yes, it wasn’t fair, it didn’t make sense, but the landowner is good.

With Jesus, we must be willing to risk our own efforts not being rewarded. We might be befuddled by others being lifted up and us being left out, and in that loneliness, the raw place of being “wronged” or cheated, we must trust, in his great, great kindness.

We need not be jealous, he is kind.

When we are last, we will be first. When we get the chance, we must look for the chance to lift up the last, or at least get out of the way for Jesus to move them to the front. It’s not fun to go from first to last but that is the invitation I read in Matthew 20.

When I am last, I connect better with Jesus, who is kind.

I can be last, because He is GOOD.






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