are traveling in Chile and encounter people waiting to be chosen as day workers for the Chuquicamata mine. A truck comes, and the fit and strong are ordered onto the truck one by one, leaving the unwanted without work, without food or water. This moving scene reveals the power the employer holds over the people.
That scene comes to mind when I read Jesus’ parable in Matthew 20:1-6. A landowner goes out early in the morning to find workers for his vineyard. I imagine him choosing the strong and leaving behind those he decides aren’t healthy enough. Or perhaps he doesn’t have enough work for everyone and can only take a few people. Whatever the reason, he leaves a number of people without work, without wages to provide for their families.
Then the parable takes a surprise turn. The landowner returns to the town again and again, hiring more people—those left behind, those deemed too sick, frail, young, or old to work in anyone’s fields. Why would the landowner go back? Surely he would want to employ as few people as possible so that he could turn a profit. Yet he goes back several times to ensure that everyone has work. The vineyard owner in Jesus’ story seems to care about those in the community who need work and can’t find it.
A second surprise comes at the end of the day when all the workers are paid a day’s wages—no matter how many hours they worked. Those who worked all day cry, “This is unfair!” But they are quickly reminded that the landowner can pay whatever he wants and that he is paying those who worked all day the wages they had agreed upon.
Surely, this business model is not sound. Paying a day’s wages to people who didn’t work the entire day would cost a lot of money. But this landowner cares that every worker has enough to provide for his family.
Each time I read this parable, I come up with more questions than answers. How many people today are working for less than a living wage, exploited so that we can buy a $2 T-shirt? How many employers are taking huge annual bonuses while they lay off half of their workforce?
This parable also challenges me to see that the kingdom of God is not fair, at least not in the way the world typically defines what is equitable. Jesus challenges the wealthy to rethink their priorities and to ensure that their community can eat, drink, and live. He challenges each of us to consider what we need in order to live and to care for our family, as well as what we might be able to give so that everyone has enough.
For those of us who consider ourselves worth more than others, this parable does not seem fair. For those of us who struggle to feed our families, this parable calls for a radical change in the world’s values that we desperately need. For those of us who employ people within our community, this parable challenges us to rethink our use of wealth and power.
God’s kingdom is not fair. It’s just. And that is good news!
Darren Wright is an Australian, a husband, the father of a 3-year-old and a newborn, a storyteller, a baker of bread, a theologian, a creative, and a lover of music.
APRIL 15, 2018
NEXT DAY STRETCH
Read Matthew 20:1–16. Write down all your questions about the parable, and talk about them with a friend or mentor. Then read the week’s news from around the world, and write or say a prayer for all the injustices you discover. Ask God to help our world become more like God’s kingdom and to use you as part of the answer to that prayer.