Summary: God will supply our need not our greed

Saxlingham/Field Dalling 22-09-02

Parable of the The Eccentric Employer

Mt. 20:1-16

F.W. Beare has rightly called this parable, the Parable of the Eccentric Employer

Who in their right mind pays someone who has only worked one hour the same as he pays someone who has done the same job for 12 hours.

But this story is not about running a business. I would like to suggest that this parable is all about the compassion of our God.


In Jesus’ day, the historian Josephus tells there was a lot of unemployment (Ant XX 219-220).

And there was no social security to fall back on.

There was no trade union power to protect the worker so the master of the field really could do what he wanted with his money. (per Matthew: France p.289)

The details of the story are the sort of thing that could easily have happened in any Jewish village at the grape harvest

The wage of one denarius was quite a generous wage for a full day’s unskilled labour as evidenced by the fact that the first set of workers readily agreed to it. (per Matthew: Michael Green: p.210) .

Up to that point, the story is quite regular.

But then we find three surprises.

1. The employer himself goes down to the Job Market himself.

2. When he pays the labourers off at the end of the day, he gives everyone the same wage.

3. The reaction of the shop steward: It isn’t fair

Let us look at the three surprises

The first surprise in the parable was that:

1. The employer himself goes down to the Job Market himself.

For unskilled labour, it would have been far more usual to send a foreman down to hire labourers.

So who is this Unusual Employer?

In this parable, Jesus’ hearers would have immediately recognised that the employer represents God and that the Vineyard represents Israel – as the Vineyard was a well-known motif in the Old Testament for God’s people - Israel.

So the labourers who are sent out into the Vineyard are the people God calls to be his servants – working for the Kingdom of God.

So what is Jesus trying to say about God, with the surprise of the employer going down to the Job Market himself?

I think that he is saying that God personally calls us each to our own ministry and that he really cares for each one of us, however humble or great we are.

The second surprise in the parable was that:

2. When the employer paid the labourers off at the end of the day, he gave everyone the same wage.

Obviously those who had worked longer expected more.

Yet the workers that had worked 12 hours for the owner of the Vineyard had undertaken a contract for one denarius – so why should he have paid more?

It is amazing how people want more as soon as they hear someone has more favourable terms than they have.

The workers who had worked the full 12 hours would not have been dissatisfied with their pay if

1. they had not seen what the other workers had earned, or

2. if those who had only worked one hour only got 1/12 of a denarius.

Perhaps there is a moral there for us.

Jesus is saying that we should be content with what God gives us – and not be jealous if it seems someone is getting a better deal.

The writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes hit the nail on the head when he said:

“Whoever loves money

never has money enough;

whoever loves wealth

is never satisfied with his income;

This too is meaningless.” (Eccl 5:10)

Story: I have never heard of anyone on their deathbed saying: ” I wish I had spent more time in the office”. But there are many who wish they had invested more time in their families or God’s work.

And the final surprise is:

3. The reaction of the shop steward: It isn’t fair .

In the world’s eyes, it wasn’t fair for the labourers who had worked the whole day to get only as much as those who had worked a full day.

Doubtless they would have taken him to an Industrial Tribunal today.

If he had given the last workers – who had only been able to work one hour one twelfth of a denarius, they would not have been to feed themselves and their family that day.

That puts a totally different complexion on the story doesn’t it?

But God’s kingdom is an “upside down” world!!

“God isn’t interested in paying a few fat cats top whack!” He is concerned that all who would for him have enough for their needs.

Not a great job ad is it?

But God’s ways are not the ways of the world.

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