Do you know the cartoon character Dennis the Menace? 

Dennis and his friend Joey were going home from Mrs Wilson’s house, their hands full of biscuits. Joey wondered “what did we do to deserve this?” Dennis replied, “Mrs Wilson doesn’t give us biscuits because we’re nice. Mrs Wilson gives us biscuits because she’s nice.”

Dennis knew he didn’t deserve the reward, but he understand Mrs Wilson’s generous nature.

In the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matt. 20: 1-16) Jesus paints a picture of a landowner hiring labourers for his vineyard.  Imagine the anxiety of men waiting in the market place hoping for work to provide daily food for their families. Some get hired at day-break, some at 9 o’clock, and some at 3 pm. With all these, the landowner agrees the usual daily wage.  Imagine the desperation of those still without work at 5 pm, too late for any hope of work or pay. For day labourers that could mean no food. Imagine their relief at being hired so late when the landowner returns again to the hiring place.

Then at day’s end, imagine their astonishment at being paid a whole day’s wage, the same as those hired at daybreak. It’s easy to understand the grumbling complaints of the other labourers. “It’s not fair – we deserve more – we’ve worked harder and longer!” The landowner asks them, “…are you envious because I am generous?”

'The Workers in the vineyard' by Kazakhstan artist Nelly Bube

 Jesus told this story in response to Peter’s question, “Who then can be saved?” and the complaint of the disciples, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us? (Matt. 19: 25-27).  Jesus teaches that everyone is of equal value in God’s kingdom.

God doesn’t reward us according to what we deserve but according to his indiscriminate generosity. He graciously invites us to work in his vineyard not for what we can do for him, but for what He can do for us. How can we imitate that grace?

Postcript: For a sermon on 'The Generous Landowner' see here


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