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‘For the Kingdom of Heaven is like”
That little phrase tells us the crucial point that Jesus wants to make with His disciples. It’s always nice when the teacher tells the class the point of the lesson at the beginning of the class. We know where He’s headed and what we’re supposed to get out of this.
This parable is a lesson about what the kingdom of heaven is like. It’s not about creating jobs or fair minimum wage standards or successful business management strategies. That’s kingdom of the world stuff. Just imagine if you tried to apply the details of this parable to the workplace and paid everyone the same whether they put in a full days work or showed up an hour before quitting time. It would never work.
In the ‘worldly realm’ there are distinctions that are made between one person and another and not everyone is treated equally. Not everyone gets paid the same amount. Managers generally get paid more than the hourly. People who do hard, physical labor are not always paid as much as others who sit behind a desk all day. Those with a college degree are on average, paid more than those who do not.
You may argue whether or not some of the distinctions that we make are right or wrong. wrong. But you can’t eliminate all distinctions. It wouldn’t be fair to pay everyone the same amount regardless of the work that is done. ‘THE WORLD DOESN’T WORK THAT WAY.’
But Jesus begins this lesson by saying, ‘for the kingdom of heaven is like” And as we see, it’s not the way the world is. The distinctions that exist in the ‘worldly realm’ simply do not exist in the ‘heavenly realm.’ Everyone, from the first to the last is paid the same. There is no distinction between one and another before God.
Now, the very fact that Jesus feels that a lesson on this subject is necessary tells us that this is something that we don’t understand. This is not, ‘common knowledge.’ In fact, as we heard St. Paul remind us last week, even the ‘wise according to this age’ don’t know what the ‘kingdom of heaven is like.’
The problem is, we think we do. We assume that the kingdom of heaven works the way the world works because that’s all we know. We make distinctions among ourselves because it’s only fair. Therefore we think that in the kingdom of heaven, God must make distinctions among individuals too, based on how worthy they are. It’s only fair.
But the Kingdom of Heaven is NOT like that. ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts and my ways are not your ways,’ says the Lord.’ (Is.55:8) And so, a lesson is necessary to teach the truth about our life before God. And the only teacher qualified to teach this lesson is the Son of God Himself.
‘For the Kingdom of Heaven is like’ a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.’
We come to learn that ‘a day’ is a twelve-hour day that begins at 6:00am. At the first hour, the master of house Himself goes out and hires laborers to work a full, 12 hour day in his vineyard and He promises to pay them a ‘full day’s wage.’ At 9:00am. the master goes out and find more laborers and hires them and they work a 9 hour day. He goes out again at noon and hires some who put in a 6 hour day. Later at 3:00pm., He hires some more who work a 3 hour day. And then, as ridiculous as this sounds, He went out at 5:00pm and hires some more to go to work an hour before quitting time. So far so good. It was typical middle-eastern practice, that when the grape harvest was ready, every available laborer was put to work.
The shocker comes at the end of the day when workers are to be paid. Everyone is paid the same amount ‘ a full day’s wages. There’s no distinction between those who worked one hour, 3 hours, 6 hours, 9 hours or 12 hours. The paychecks were all for the same amount.
And the point of the parable is, that’s what the ‘kingdom of heaven is like.’ That’s what our life before God is like. God makes no distinction between the first and the last. Your hard work bearing ‘the burden of the day and the scorching heat’ earns you no greater reward from God than the one who hardly got his hands dirty and never broke a sweat.
Jesus says, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like this”
So, what do you think? How do you feel about that? What’s your response to this? Do you like it or does it bother you?
It’s important to notice that this is the crucial part of this lesson that Jesus would have us learn. This is not just about learning new facts and acquiring information middle-eastern business practices. Jesus wants us to respond to this. Not so that He may see what our response to the Kingdom of Heaven is, but so that we may see.
I find it disturbing that the only reaction that Jesus includes in this story is that of those who were hired first. And their reaction is far from positive. ‘On receiving [the denari], THEY GRUMBLED AGAINST THE MASTER OF THE HOUSE saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.”
They everything that was promised to them. But they were completely dissatisfied and angry because, ‘You have made them equal to us.’ The master of the house is being ‘unfair.’ He is not making any distinctions.
This of course, is not the only possible response that the workers could have had. But this is the one that the teacher addresses. And who are the students in the classroom for this lesson? His own disciples. Those who were called first. Those who have worked the hardest and longest. They are going to have the hardest time with this lesson about what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.
The chief operating principle in the Kingdom of Heaven, as Jesus describes is, is all wrapped up in that one word, ‘grace.’ ‘Grace’ never looks at the work produced. Distinctions between ‘worthy or ‘unworthy’, ‘deserving’ or ‘undeserving’ simply do not exist where grace is the rule.
And this is hard to swallow for those who think that they are above average and over-achievers before God. The Pharisees and Sadducees and Scribes of Israel were so bothered by Jesus’ teaching that the Kingdom of God operated solely on the principle of grace that they ‘grumbled against the master of the house.’ And their ‘grumbling’ didn’t stop until the teacher was crucified. They would not ‘enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.’
The master of the house responded to the ‘grumblers,’ ‘Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity’? Literally it says, ‘is your eye bad because I am good’? ‘Why does my goodness make you see red’? ‘Why does my generosity to the last make you so hopin’ mad at me that you want to kill me’?
So, what is your response to the master? How do your eyes see this?
As we said, this is not the only possible reaction to this lesson about the Kingdom of Heaven. What do you suppose was the reaction of those who worked only 9 hours when they realized they had been paid the a full day’s wage? And what about those who worked only 6 hours, and 3 hours? And what must have been the reaction of those who were the last and who only worked a measly hour at the most, when they realized that they were paid as though they had worked a full day?
What else could their reaction have been but joyous surprise and overwhelming gratitude. For them, the concept of ‘grace’ was ‘jaw-dropping’ good news. They would have certainly received their denari with deep appreciation and thanks to the master. As far as they were concerned, He was certainly ‘allowed to do what He choose with what belongs to Him.’ Because what He chooses to do with what is His is incredibly good and gracious. They would have sung His praises to everyone they could and would be eager to go to work in His vineyard whenever He called.
Their eye was good because He is good. They certainly did not ‘begrudge Him His generosity.’ And I pray that we would not either. For unless the master is allowed to exercise His right to be generous, we are all doomed. What hope do any of us have except that the master is generous with all according to the principle of grace and solely by grace? WHERE WOULD ANY OF US BE IF WE GOT WHAT WE DESERVED?
It is in fact, the worldly foolishness of the master that is our only hope. It is only because He will not be denied His right to be generous that we do not despair. ‘The last shall be first and the first shall be last.’
This is what the ‘kingdom of heaven is like.’ And this is a lesson for those who think that they are first AND for those who think that they are last. For those who are think that they are first, beware, be careful, repent. All comparisons with others must be put to death for they lead to pride and envy which will rob you of all of the joy of having been called by the Master into the Vineyard. ‘You have made them equal to us’ will become the a wall of separation between you and the Kingdom of Heaven. “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’ (Matthew 18:3-4)
And for those who think that they are the last, take heart, fear not, rejoice. ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ (Matthew 5:3). Give thanks and praise to the master that He never stopped coming until He found you, even in the final hour. Lift up your hearts, that while you were just ‘standing,’ ‘idle’ in your sins, He called you to come into His vineyard and paid you the full wages that He has earned by ‘bearing the burden of the day and the scorching heat’ of the cross. He who is the First and the Last has been paid the full wages for all of our works. He has been paid with our death so that we might be paid with His life.
Which reaction to this lesson about the kingdom of heaven is yours?
As we said, the audience for this lesson is Jesus’ own disciples. They were the first to be called to come to work in the Vineyard. Peter, on behalf of them all, had just pointed out to Jesus, ‘See, we have left everything and followed you? What then will we have’?
They thought that because they were the first, they deserved a greater reward for their faithfulness and sacrifice than others who came later and sacrificed less. Especially that rich young man who had just refused to leave everything he had to follow Jesus. Jesus, knowing the danger in such an attitude, and loving His disciples, says, ‘for the kingdom of heaven is like”
The time was rapidly approaching however, when these same disciples would see that there was also one thing that they refused to leave behind ‘ their life. All the disciples would desert Jesus for fear of losing their life. Peter, who thought he had left everything behind, publically denied knowing Jesus in order to hold onto what he would not let go of.
They thought that they were first, but very soon, their eye would see that they were last. How will they respond to this lesson? What will their reaction to the master of the house be who pays the last as He pays the first?
In this lesson, Jesus would teach His disciples the Kingdom of Heaven is founded upon the grace of God and the last receive the same reward as the first, and all receive everything, because simply because, He is the master and He is allowed to do what He chooses with what belongs to Him. And they belong to Him. And so do you.