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Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?

Matthew 20:15

The people who lived and traveled with Jesus must have been in a state of constant confusion. That guy was so unpredictable. He was a respected religious leader, but he was born in a barn. He held himself and his followers to strict codes of moral conduct, but he was infamous for eating with prostitutes and drunkards. He said that rich people would have a harder time entering the Kingdom of Heaven than a camel passing through the eye of a needle, but he once let a rich woman bathe his feet in $20,000 worth of fancy perfume.

I mean, you never knew what Jesus was going to do or say next. And that’s why today’s Lenten passage is perfect. Only Jesus would tell a story about an employer who pays everyone the same wage at the end of the day, regardless of how long or hard they worked. You get how ridiculous that is, right?

You can’t pay everyone the same wage. Workers would riot. There would be no incentives for people to get up early and work hard. The economy would fall apart. It just won’t work. Economically speaking, practically speaking, it’s just not realistic.

Be careful now. We may tend toward quickly dismissing the economics of this parable in favor of symbolic, spiritual meanings. Sometimes that’s the right move to make, but tread lightly here. Before you run away from the economy of this parable, I want you to consider something profound.

A denarius was the minimum daily wage that a worker in Jesus’ day needed to survive. So in the story, the employer simply couldn’t bear the idea of paying his workers less than a living wage.


Consider that for a moment. What would it be like to work for someone who valued your good work, but also cared about how you and your family were living?

The ironic moment of truth is when those who complain at the end of the day are sent away from the employer’s presence. Their penalty is that they don’t get to work for him anymore. And isn’t this employer the guy EVERYONE wants to work for?


QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: If—as seems likely—Jesus is using the employer as a metaphor for God, how does this story teach grace? Where do you see yourself in the story? Are you one of the workers who put in a long day and felt unappreciated? Or are you one of the latecomers who didn’t work a whole day but has received a full day’s wage? What lessons can we learn from the mindset of this employer?

PRAYER: Lord, your generosity is really too much for me to comprehend. Your ideas of “fairness” aren’t the same as mine. Help me to slow down and pay attention to the way you do things. Thank you for always extending compassion. Amen.

P.S. from Mark: Throughout the season of Lent, the Daily Reflections will focus on knowing Jesus better. They have been written by a talented collection of writers, my associates at Foundations for Laity Renewal. You'll be able to follow this Lenten series through the Daily Reflections.

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