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The Labourers in the Vineyard - God's Justice.

Updated: Dec 12, 2023

“And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way."

Saint Matthew 20.4.

Our Gospel reading for Septuagesima concerns the parable of the labourers in the vineyard and it is essentially about justice in this world.

According to Saint Matthew, Jesus tells us about an owner of a vineyard who hired labourers at approximately six in the morning and then as he felt the need, he hired more workers on an hourly basis throughout the day.

The first group agreed to work the whole day for a penny or denarius, which evidently, they felt to be a fair wage. The succeeding group of workers unanimously agreed to work the full day for whatever the owner felt was fair. By the end of the day, the owner paid all the labourers a denarius, even if they had worked only an hour for the day. The workers hired earliest complained that this was not fair.

The point of the parable, however, is about the owner's willingness to exceed conventional hiring practices, and his freedom to do so within the limits of individual agreements. Firstly, these men received all that they were justly entitled to receive through their agreement with the owner. Secondly, the owner's money was his to distribute as he saw fit. If he felt that it was fair to pay the last the same wage as the first, then it was indeed both his right and privilege to do so. As far as the owner was concerned justice had been satisfied.

The parable is simply the claim that each worker enters into a personal contract with the owner and that the owner claims the right to enter into differing contracts. It is in the parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard that we come to learn about Saint Matthew's concept of 'reward' at it relates to doing God's will and that it is different from the idea of reward as a kind of accumulated merit. The parable teaches us that no one should grumble or complain about the Joy of God's generosity, whatever it may be.

So, Saint Matthew teaches us, in this Markan narrative parable, about the reversal of values for all of humanity in the coming Kingdom of God. The revelation here is that the Apostle proclaims, that there are no degrees of reward. The only and final reward is God's presence in our life. Our share in this reality is the same and equal for all.

“And when they had received it, they murmured against the good man of the house,” Matthew 20:11

Saint Matthew wants us to understand that Justice means that we are not valuable for what we do or own, but for what we are as one of God's creations. Therefore, we all have a right to whatever we need to help us grow ever closer to God.

Since we are all equally deserving of this growth in the love of God, and we should all respect this fact, the foundation for justice lies in the sanctity of the individual. Justice is manifested in one's steady determination to give each person their right or due. Justice fuels all relationships between and among people. It is hence the basis of all social life, becoming a conduit between individuals and their community, and vice versa.

In the parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, something else rears its ugly head: Envy. Envy is one of the seven deadly sins which is most opposed to both justice and charity, because justice is the real expression of charity. When one is filled with envy, he or she resents the other for their treasure and their right to possess it.

Covetousness is also opposed to justice, in as much as it has to do with both business and finance. We witness this particular vice with the behaviour of the labourers hired earliest. In many ways, envy and covetousness are the main reasons for much of the political and economic turmoil we witness in the world today

God's Mercy and Grace given to all

It can be argued that the workers were afforded what we would call today a 'living wage'. The good news for us, as Christians, is that God doesn’t give us what we deserve - he gives us what we need, whether we deserve it or not.

And that’s the whole The Labourers in the Vineyard point; every worker was given a denarius and in those days that amount of money was what a family needed in order to survive. Those who had worked only for an hour may not have deserved a denarius, but if they didn’t get it, their families would go hungry that night. So, the owner gave them what they needed. And that’s what God has done for us through Jesus.

In other words, none of us comes to Jesus at a higher level than anyone else. The key thing to remember is that we all receive His Grace in exactly the same way - not because we’ve earned it, but because of God’s generous love. Indeed, Brothers and Sisters, ‘The first shall be last, and the last first’.

Our message today is that while a person may be first in this life with honour or wealth, that is not true in God’s kingdom. Simply, Salvation or eternal life is not earned by our status in this life. The people who some would think deserved more ended up receiving exactly the same gift as those who could be regarded as less deserving.

Our Heavenly Father is not so prejudice! I want to re-emphasize this, God's Mercy and Grace is distributed equally to everyone because He generously gives us, not what we deserve but what we need. Much like the owner of the Vineyard, who took care of his workers, God sustains us. And that is what Mercy and Grace is all about.


Reflection for Septuagesima Sunday

Published on February 15th, 2020 in The Traditional Anglican News Volume 8 Issue 2 {Revised on February 1st,2023}

© Dr. Charles Warner 2023

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