Summary: God takes the initiative in salvation, and when we enter his kingdom, there is work to be done.
After graduating from college and before serving at my first full-time church, I worked for a few months at Velux in Greenwood, a plant that manufactures sky lights. As I began to look for a job in Greenwood after returning from Florida, I found circumstances quite different from the last time I had looked for a job. In my previous times of looking for work, a person could go to the plant itself and fill out an application. But now, almost every plant I went to I was told that I would have to go to a temporary staffing office to fill out an application. It seems they did all their hiring through these agencies.
I soon learned that this was a way for a company to save money. You see, even though I did the same work as the employees of Velux, I was not paid as much as they were. Neither did they pay insurance on me as they did employees. Further, I did not have the opportunity to invest in a 401K or get anything out of profit sharing at the end of the year. Additionally, the plant shut down for two weeks during Christmas and also for some other major holidays. The employees were paid for these days but I wasn’t.
I recall that others temps-as we were called, and myself often discussed the unfairness of these circumstances. We were expected to do the same jobs with the same diligence as regular employees of Velux but without the benefits and pay.
But I could look at that situation another way. Velux did not owe me a job. That they would give me one at all was gracious on their part. It helped me pay my bills. They were not obligated to provide insurance for my family or me nor were they obligated to let me receive some of the profits the company made. They could have paid me minimum wage if they had so desired. So I suppose what appeared unfair to me was fair when looked at from another viewpoint.
Now there have been and still are many cases of unfairness in our country and other countries. Minority groups have been discriminated against in our country and in other countries. For many years in our country women could not vote nor could African Americans. Even after African Americans received the right to vote, there were groups who tried and did keep them from the polls.
Some of you recall the movie from some years back, Mississippi Burning. It was based on a true story in Mississippi where several civil rights workers were killed for registering blacks to vote. They had the right to vote but could not exercise it because of threats and other measures used against them.
From the outset it seems Jesus tells a story about unfairness. He tells of an owner of an estate who goes out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. There were all types of work that had to be done in a vineyard. It could have been preparing a new vineyard or planting vines in an existing vineyard. It could have been harvesting the grapes. Whatever he hired them to do, we can be assured it was difficult work. Most of the vineyards were prepared on terraced hillsides where the ground was very stony. To prepare the terrace one had to dig out the tier and then use the stones for a retaining wall. This then had to be filled in with good soil, which had to be carried up the slopes.
In summer the old and new vines had to be pruned so that production would increase. The harvesting was done in September when the weather was very hot and before the rainy weather began. Since a vineyard owner did not usually have enough servants to take care of such a large task, it was often necessary for him to hire day laborers. Day laborers usually worked one day at a time and had no guarantee of work beyond that. When dawn came, they would gather at the market place in hopes that someone would hire them.
The first day laborers he hired agreed to work for the normal daily wage. They probably began work around 6 am. At nine o’clock the owner of the estate was again passing through the marketplace and saw some people standing around doing nothing. So he hired them too telling them he would pay them what was right at the end of the day. At noon and then again at three o’clock he did the same. At five o’clock in the afternoon he passed through the marketplace and again hired other workers.
That evening the foreman was instructed to call the workers in and pay them their wages. Those who had only worked an hour received a full day’s pay just like those who had worked all day. In fact, they all received the same pay. Now the ones who had worked all day were not happy about this as we can imagine. Listen to their complaint, “Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.” Now we can sympathize with their complaint.