Summary: Since when does it make sense to pay the guys hired at the last hour the same as those hired at the beginning of the day. This is the 1st of 4 sermon that consider the astounding mathematics of grace.
Aeneas’ eyes snapped open from his deep sleep. He could hear the desert winds relentlessly blowing the trees outside and whistle through the cracks and crevices of the house. Years of working as a day laborer in the vineyards taught him what these winds meant. It was the time of the scorching heat and the grapes had to be harvested!
These winds would soon be followed by heavy rains and even more destructive high winds. The grapes would be lost unless they were harvested quickly. This was good news for him. It meant there would be work. It meant bread for his family. The endless cycle of poverty would be broken for a time. If he got to the marketplace early, he was sure of being hired. With a surge of hope Aeneas dressed quickly.
The crimson sun was just erupting over the horizon. He was joined by several others hoping for a day's work. Strangely, one of the vineyard owners was already there. He too felt the urgency of the harvest, and needed all the hands he could hire before the rains came. The negotiations for the day's wage went quickly: a denarius, the going rate for sunup to sundown labor. It was 6:00 am, and Aeneas went to work.
The early morning hours in the vineyard were usually cool and it was the best time to work. But today it was already blistering hot, and the winds felt as if they had blown off a furnace. He gathered grapes as quickly as he could. He had much experience and his hands had been trained by years of hard labor, but as he looked across the vineyard, he knew they would not finish before sundown.
At 9:00 am, the owner returned to the marketplace to hire more workers. Aeneas speculated what they would be paid for less than a full day’s labor, but it would be good to have help. Only nine hours left in the day and it would take every hand to finish on time.
But the Nine o'clock crew would not be enough either. The shadow was sprinting across the dial; the winds and the rain would come too soon. Aeneas stole a glance at the owner whose expression betrayed his concern. He wasn't surprised when the owner returned to the marketplace at noon to hire more workers. By now, men from other villages seeking work were waiting. Yet even more workers were hired at 3:00. As the afternoon sun began to cast longer and longer shadows through the rows of still unharvested vines, they knew they could not pick them all in time. Yet, they were still surprised when the owner returned to the marketplace at 5:00 to see if he could hire still more men. There would be little more than an hour for them to work.
As each crew was hired, Aeneas calculated what each would earn for their portion of labor. He even mused over the possibility of making more than the owner had agreed. He could almost feel the coins in his hands.
Finally, the end of the day came and the workers lined up for their pay. He was amazed when the five o'clock workers were called to be paid first. All eyes were fixed on the landowner as he handed out the wages. Unbelieving shock swept over the workers as the owner paid each a full denarius.
How could this be? It meant one of two things: either the others would be paid more or- no, that could never happen. He felt a surge of greed. He thought best of the owner and was already multiplying what he could earn for a full twelve hours of labor. Twelve denarii!
But fear gripped him as the three o'clock workers are also given a denarius. His anxiety mounted as the workers hired at noon received the same, then white hot anger as the nine o'clock workers are given no more than the others.
When the owner placed the single denarius in his hand, Aeneas could take it no longer. He burst with a blast of indignation. “It's not fair! I've been working here all day. Is there no justice; no reward for hard work? What's the use of working 12 hours if one hour's work in the cool of the evening earns the same amount?” and he threw the coin at the owner’s feet. “You keep your dirty denarius!”
The owner looked at the other guys hired in the 1st hour. He saw the disappointment mixed with anger on their faces. He picked up the denarius and looked back at Aeneas, “Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous.”