Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Laborers in the Vineyard

Wednesday, June 23, 2010 -- Week of Proper 7, Year Two

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 973)
Psalms 101, 109:1-4(5-19)20-30 (morning)       119:121-144 (evening)
Numbers 16:36-50
Romans 4:13-25
Matthew 20:1-16

There are few parables that challenge our conventional beliefs as much as today's story of the laborers in the vineyard.  "The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard..."

The landowner agrees to pay the laborers hired at the first hour a denarius, the usual daily wage.  It is a just and customary compensation.

But there is more work to be done, so the landowner continues to seek others to help in the vineyard.  Equally significant, there are those who are standing around idle in the marketplace.  They have no work.  They do not share in the dignity of work.  Working and the opportunity to work is an important theme in the scripture.  Everyone needs work, not just for its life-giving compensation, but also for the opportunity for meaning and contribution that work conveys. 

The landowner continues to hire laborers throughout the day -- at nine and noon and even at the last hour of the day.  His promise to them:  "I will pay you whatever is right." 

At evening, the field manager lines up the workers to distribute their wages, beginning with the last hired.  The ones who have worked all day see that those were were last in the field are paid the denarius, the usual daily wage.  When they see that, an expectation blooms in their imaginations.  They expect to be paid more.  But when they reach the manager, he pays them the same denarius as those who only worked one hour.  They are angry.  It doesn't seem fair.

"Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual denarius/daily wage?  Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you.  Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?  Or are you envious because I am generous?"

The impact of the story seems to depend on where you stand in line. 

If you are one of those last laborers, you are thrilled.  Throughout the day you did not have the dignity and security of work.  In that culture your plight also means that you have not earned what you need to supply the daily bread for your family.  A denarius is a subsistence wage.  No pay, or less than a denarius, means hunger at home.  The generosity of the landowner means survival -- daily bread for your family.  You can only be thankful.

But how do you feel if you were among the first laborers?  You have worked all day, presumably from 6:00 a.m.  Yes, you agreed to the usual daily wage, the denarius.  But you see these latecomers, who only worked an hour, are being paid a denarius.  It doesn't seem fair, does it?

Underneath the sense of injustice is a sense of privilege.  I deserve more.  I earned it.  They didn't do the same work.  They didn't earn it. 

Yet my sense of justice is not acknowledged by the landowner.  The kingdom of God is NOT like this. 

Jesus' parable is a challenge to this latter group and to their sense of justice.  Can we rejoice in the good fortune of the others?  Can we surrender our sense of privilege and welcome these others as equals?  Can we accept our daily bread without expecting more?  When is enough enough?  Do we begrudge generosity?  Must everything be earned?  Is status earned?  Is subsistence earned? 

What does this parable say about God? 

What does this parable say about economics?  ...about justice?  ...about work?  ...about our social fabric and relationships within society?  ...about competition?  ...about reward?

This is a parable about the kingdom of God.  If the kingdom of God is like this, am I fit for the kingdom of God?



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About Morning Reflections
Morning Reflections is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at
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The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

Visit our web site at

Our Rule of Life
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


At 9:52 AM, Anonymous selow said...

Your reflection calls to mind one of my favorite verses of The Prophet. I wish things could be this way.

On Work

An excerpt from "The Prophet" by Kahlil Gibran

Then a ploughman said, Speak to us of Work.
And he answered, saying:

You work that you may keep pace with
the earth and the soul of the earth.
For to be idle is to become a stranger unto the seasons,
and to step out of life's procession, that marches in majesty
and proud submission towards the infinite.

When you work you are a flute through
whose heart the whispering of the hours
turns to music.
Which of you would be a reed, dumb and silent,
When all else sings together in unison?

Always you have been told that work is
a curse and labour a misfortune.
But I say to you that when you work you fulfil
a part of earth's furthest dream, assigned to you
when the dream was born,
And in keeping yourself with labour you
are in truth loving life,
And to love life's labour is to be intimate
with life's innermost secret.

But if in your pain you would call birth an affliction
and the support of the flesh a curse
written upon your brow,
than I answer that naught but the sweat of your brow
shall wash away that which is written,

You have been told that life is darkness,
and in your weariness you echo what
was said by the weary.
And I say that life is indeed a darkness
save when there is urge.
And all urge is blind save when there is knowledge,
And all knowledge is vain save when there is work,
And all work is empty save when there is love;
And when you work with love you bind
yourself to yourself, and to one another,
and to God.

And what is it to work with love?
It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn
from your own heart,
even as if your beloved
were to wear that cloth.
It is to build a house with affection, even as if your beloved
were to dwell in that house.
It is to sow seeds with tenderness and
reap the harvest with joy, even as if your beloved
were to eat the fruit.
It is to charge all things you fashion
with a breath of your own spirit,
And to know that all the blessed dead
are standing about you and watching.

Often have I heard you say, as if speaking in sleep,
"He who works in marble, and finds the shape
of his own soul in the stone,
is nobler that he who ploughs the soil.
And he who seizes the rainbow to lay it on a
cloth in the likeness of man, is more
than he who makes the sandals for our feet."
But I say, not in sleep but in the over- wakefulness of noontide,
that the wind speaks not more sweetly to the giant oaks
than to the least of all the blades of grass.
And he alone is great who turns the voice
of the wind into a song made sweeter by
his own loving.

Work is love made visible
And if you cannot work with love but only
with distaste, it is better that you should
leave your work and sit at the gate of the
temple and take alms of those who work with joy..
For if you bake bread with indifference
you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half
man's hunger
And if you grudge the crushing of the
grapes, your grudge distills a poison in the wine
And if you sing though as angels,and
love not the singing, you muffle man's ears
to the voices of the day and the voices of
the night.

At 10:11 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

That is an absolutely exquisite poem. I am saving it for a Labor Day meditation. Thank you so much.


At 9:38 PM, Blogger Jon Javid said...

good work. I also really like this other perspective on the laborers in the vineyard. it something I had never heard before but made complete sense


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