Summary: A fresh look at an old story Jesus told in Matthew 20 to see how Amazing Grace really is
There’s a Mexican market in our city. My wife and I have shopped there. Not only is it a place to shop for food; it is also a meeting place for Mexican workers. So very early one morning about this time of the year the owner of the Grey Monk Winery sent his foreman to the Mexican market to pick up as many able-bodied men as he could find.
It was harvest time in the Vineyard. So, the foreman went to the Mexican Market just before 6 o'clock - 8 men were standing around waiting to work. They were promised $20 per hour if they worked the 12-hour shift. That’s $240 for the 12-hour shift. They all piled into the mini bus.
But when the owner of the Vineyard saw that he only had 8 workers he said to his foreman ‘Go back to the Mexican market and find more workers we have a huge harvest to bring in. So, the manager drove all the way back to Enterprise. He got there about 9 o'clock and lo and behold there were some more migrant workers hanging around; he offered them a job and told them they would be paid fairly. They piled into the mini bus and headed off to the Grey Monk Winery.
But you only picked up 8 more the owner said in exasperation. Go back and find some more workers or this great harvest will be lost. So, the foreman/bus driver drove back to the Mexican market again, at 12 noon, and again at 3 in the afternoon and even as late as 5 in the afternoon, less than an hour before they shut down the operation for the day.
Finally, 6 o'clock came and work stopped. The guys who had only worked the last hour of the day lined up first for their money. The owner passed each man $240. Next came the men who had come to work at 3 o'clock. They too were given $240. Then the guys who had arrived at noon were paid - $240 as well. By this time the men who had arrived into work for 6 in the morning were doing some quick math in their heads. They might be farm workers but they weren’t stupid. If a guy who worked three hours made $240 then they were in for at least $1000. There will be dancing on the streets of Bucerias tonight.
But when it came time for the guys who worked 12 hours straight through the hot sun to get their pay. They were handed $240. Words started to fly. Words that I will not repeat from this pulpit. Some in English. Most in Spanish. But the jest of it was: This is not fair.
And that is how most of us react to the Gospel reading for this morning. It’s not fair. Little seems more unequal than the equal treatment of unequals. This is not fair. From the time we are little we have a concept of fair play. As grandparents we are very careful to buy gifts of equal value for each of the grandchildren lest there be loud laments of ‘that’s not fair, his cost more than mine.’ We know what is just and fair. And this is not fair.
Matthew is the only one of the four Evangelists to tell this story. I wonder if the other three Gospel writers were as uncomfortable with it as some of us are. In my long years of preaching from the Bible from cover to cover I have never once preached on this text. I wonder if I too felt so uncomfortable with this teaching that I jumped over to some other passage until I was forced here today by the Lectionary.
I hope I can ease your discomfort and open your hearts to what I’ve discovered about this parable. Jesus is teaching two great truths in this story:
1. The value of gratitude.
2. The unfairness of grace
The Value of Gratitude
Jesus is teaching us the importance of thanksgiving. The value of gratitude. G. K. Chesterton is widely quoted as saying “Gratitude is the mother of all virtues”.
But were these early morning workers thankful. No, they were not! Rather than being thankful for getting their promised pay these 6 o'clock workers compared themselves to others.
• I’m not as rich as Warren Buffet
• I’m not as talented as the Pavarotti
• I’m not as good looking as Justin Trudeau
• I’m not as smart as the late Dr. Steven Hawking
• I’m not as healthy as … my three year old nephew.
• I’m not as spiritual as the late Mother Teresa
It is very easy to focus on what we don’t have rather than on what we do have. We have to climb uphill to be thankful. The easy, downhill road is to complain, to compare our lot with others.