The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard
I have some incredibly good news.
This week I was told that we have been given a very generous legacy. Our benefactress writes that she has felt so supported by the church community of Itchen Valley that she wants to give £1000 to each church member in the parish – it’s not to be used for the fabric fund or to be paid to the Diocese – it’s for each of us to do whatever we want with the money.
But because it’s complicated to determine who is a church member and who is not (is it the electoral roll or who attends church regularly or those who attend church at Festivals), the will says that the gift will be given to each person who is at church on the first Sunday after Christmas this year.
It’s such an incredible story that it is actually unbelievable – in fact I have just made it up.
Sorry to those of you who have already spent the money in your heads….
But I would like you to imagine that this was true.
And of course you would probably make sure that you and your family were at church on that first Sunday after Christmas. And perhaps you would cancel your Christmas skiing holiday so that you could be there.
But imagine that you arrive at church on that Sunday to discover that the church yard is heaving with people. Some of them are friends that you have seen in church regularly on Sundays but others you barely ever see in church and there are some people that you know are atheists or at least agnostics. What’s even worse is that there are loads of people you have never seen before and you are pretty certain don’t even live in the Valley.
But just at the Altar you can see a man in a pinstripe suit with an enormous cheque book and a huge grin signing cheques and giving them to everyone one after another.
How would you feel? After all, you have been part of Itchen Valley since before it was a single parish. You have been cooking or polishing brasses or doing fund raising for years and years and these other people have been doing NOTHING. They aren’t church goers at all! They have just turned up for the cash on the day. It’s not fair….
And what is even worse, someone has brought a mini bus full of prisoners on day release from Winchester prison – and they are queueing up as well and receiving a cheque each…
Well this is pretty well how the Jews must have felt listening to Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard. It’s not fair that those who are employed last – those who have not put in the work and who have been lazing around all day, should get the same reward as those who have been slaving away in the heat of the Sun.
But there is something more going on here than the unfairness of the shirkers getting the same reward as the workers.
Those who have not been hired until the end of the day – until the 11th hour – are in an open market are bound, you would think, to be the weakest. But is that the case in this story? What is the point being made by the employer when he asks those he recruits at the 11th hour ‘why have you been standing here all day doing nothing’ and the answer he gets ‘because no-one has hired us’? Why would the land owner ask that question if it was obvious from their physical attributes or their reputation that they were incapable of doing the work or were too idle to do it. And why wouldn’t the landowner have invited them to do the work at the beginning of the day if they were suitable – why leave it until the end of the day if he was going to employ them anyway?
It’s a puzzle – but in any case, whatever the reason they were not employed earlier in the day, it’s an outrage in the terms of Ancient Israel that they should have the same reward as those who have worked all day.
But the parable is to tell us something about the character of God.
There are two points:
First, God does not owe us anything.
God’s gift to us is always totally undeserved. Nothing that we do can make us more or less deserving of his generosity because we are all sinful.
God’s idea of fairness is to give the same salvation to all who choose to accept his invitation to come into the kingdom regardless of the good works – the work in the vineyard – that we have done. So the rules of the kingdom of heaven are so different to the rules of the kingdom of the world – where merit is deserved by what we do.
Second, God loves the lost – those who are not Christians as we are: both those who are living in open rebellion against Him and also those who are just a bit passive – lukewarm and not getting up off their backsides to engage with Him. Although he hates their sin, He loves those who have not yet turned to him.
He wants to invite them into his kingdom but we are his arms and feet – he wants us to go into the market place to invite them for him. If they refuse, well of course they remain lost, perhaps for ever…
But if they choose to accept the invitation, however late in the day they will receive the same salvation as those who have been the greatest saints during their time on earth. So different from our ideas of what is right. But on the other hand – perhaps it is not because if we had invited them earlier perhaps they would have joined the kingdom earlier – perhaps it is down to us after all.
Do we care about the lost as he does? Because if we do not can we really claim to be his disciples?
Alpha is for the lost. It is for those who do not yet know Him.
Do you care enough about the lost to risk embarrassment by going into the market place for God to invite the lost in to the kingdom – by inviting your neighbours to attend Alpha?
With your service sheet are two invitation cards – one for each house either side of your – please put them through the letter boxes.