UNFAIR WAGES Matthew 20:1-16

A sermon with the congregation of St. Mark's, Barriefield, Kingston, Ontario on September 23, 1990
by Robert Brow (www.brow.on.ca)

Our Gospel today is about unfair wages. Jesus introduced it with "The Kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner, who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard." Which means the church is like a vineyard. And in those days a big vineyard was a very busy place. There were people clearing rocks and planting new vine trees. They had to be watered and weeded and pruned. As the grapes ripened boys were hired to keep off the starlings. Somebody had to mind the gate, and keep the donkeys and carts in order.

Then came the harvest. People went out to cut and collect the bunches of grapes in their baskets. From all over the hillside these were carried in and thrown into the wine vat. Young people loved to jump in and stomp out the juice. They would sing harvest songs, and they got to drink the new wine which was just beginning to ferment. That is what young people would like the church to be like.

Older people say "we like a matured vintage of old wine." But of course you don't get mature old wine unless you have a harvest every year of new wine. As you know, there are old wine Anglicans. They say "look at those terrible young people horsing around in that wine vat and drinking that awful new wine." There are also new wine Anglicans. Which are you? But of course we need both in Jesus' wine producing business.

But harvesting is not the only thing that goes on. All year long people have been preparing new wineskins. As the grapes were trodden, the juice came out from a pipe at the bottom of the vat. When a jar was filled it was decanted into a wineskin. Some had to work filling and hanging up the wineskins in a cool place. Then people had to sell them, and keep accounts, and prepare a lunch for the workers. That is what a church is like. There are hundreds of different jobs to be done.

I suggest you make a list of all that goes on in this congregation. And pray for them all on Sunday. People set up for communion, and read, and pray, and sing, and play the organ. There are visitors, greeters, sides people, servers, givers, trouble shooters, and those who keep accounts and pay the bills. Praying is the hardest and most important work of all. That is why the Kingdom of Heaven is like a vineyard. And there is more than enough work for all.

For people who are keen to work not having a job to do is a terrible experience. "No one has hired us." That is why the Lord of the vineyard hates unemployment. Some of you still remember the tragedy of the great depression. It wasn't just that people were hungry. They were humiliated, and lost their self-respect.

Notice how keen the Lord is to give people work. "He went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. Then he went out again three hours later, and seeing others waiting unemployed in the market square he said to them, "You also go into the vineyard." Then he went out again about noon and at three in the afternoon, and made sure they had work to do. He even went out at 5 pm when there was only an hour left before the workers got paid.

Similarly in the Lord's church it is important to respect the desire of members to work. It is never too late. We are never too old. He never views us as useless. You might not become the next bishop, or one of the wardens, but there are jobs to do. People who love are always in demand. And there are many ways of loving.

Now notice what happened at the end of the day. Everybody got paid the same. That isn't the way the world does its business, but that is the way Jesus runs his church. But people don't like that. They grumbled against the owner of the vineyard. "These last only worked one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat" (Matthew 20:12). Like many of us they were never satisfied. We think we should get more. And in a congregation there are always those who think "Why should newcomers get as much respect and attention as we deserve?"

Jesus does not accept that argument. "Are you envious because I am generous?" (Matthew 24:15). Those who had worked longest got paid what they had agreed on. It was the usual daily wage, let's say the equivalent of fifty dollars a day.

But it wasn't the amount paid that was important. Whether we are paid a lot, or a little, or not paid at all, what counts is the satisfaction of having a job to do and doing it well. Work is its own reward. In the world some people hate their work and just put in time till they can retire. But it is not work that they hate, but being forced to do it when they would rather do something else. Watch them working at something they enjoy. Digging in the garden, building a cottage, serving a gourmet meal, minding their grandchildren. .

But in the Kingdom of God, no one is forced to work. The Lord gives us work for us to enjoy. And, if you haven't work to do, just talk to the Lord of our vineyard and see what happens.

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