Regarding Fairness: The Parable of the Vineyard Workers

I can’t wait to study our Stepping Stones lesson of the parable of the vineyard workers with you! If you have some time, please find a Bible and read Matthew 20:1-16… Now, let’s just imagine ourselves for a minute as the first group of workers. How would you feel after a boiling day in the sun as you watch the group of workers who showed up at the very last hour getting paid an entire day’s wages? Wouldn’t you be excited at the anticipation of an even better reward because of your diligent hard work? And then, bam, you end up getting paid the same amount as they did! How is that fair?

To really understand this parable I think we need to jump back to Matthew 19. Here Jesus and the disciples are having a discussion about how seeking the kingdom of heaven sometimes involves sacrifice. Peter then breaks the ice with a rather blunt question: “Look, we’ve given up everything to follow you. What will we get out of it?” Isn’t it interesting how Peter’s question revealed a spirit very similar to that of the vineyard workers? Even after the years they had spent with Jesus, the disciples “still worked with the thought of meriting a reward in proportion to their labor” (Christ’s Object Lessons). So, Jesus told them a story that was sure to agitate them. How is it fair for a group of lazy vagabonds (i.e, them) who no one in his right mind would hire to get rewarded the same amount as those who have diligently toiled all day long – i.e., us!?

But the whole point here is that it isn’t fair! It’s grace! You see, we get caught up in this parable trying to figure out which group we belong in (nearly all of us will identify ourselves with the first group, by the way) and trying to determine how “fairness” factor works out for each party involved. But this parable isn’t about the workers – it’s about the awesomely generous vineyard owner! It’s about realizing that we are all in that last rag-tag group of social leftovers who no one else would give a shot. After an hour’s pittance of labor, we get paid off as if we had actually done something useful! Our reward has nothing to do with our effort but has everything to do with the character of the gracious vineyard owner. When we finally view this parable from that perspective, we see that things are absolutely not fair – and that’s the most exciting news we can hear!


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