WEEK 7: What’s In It For Me?
“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner.” (Matthew 20:9-10)
The parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) who joined in the work at various points in the day, all to receive the same pay at the end, has always challenged me – having come to faith at a relatively young age, I easily saw the ‘injustice’ of it.
I also never saw this parable as being the best ‘recruiting tool’ for the Kingdom of God. Why would one want to “bear the burden of the work and the heat of the day” (20:12) when you could join in right at the end and get the same pay? I know that Jesus was making a point about His Kingdom system working differently to the ways of the world, but from our cultural perspective in which free time, weekends and holidays are prized and sought after, it might seem that the latecomers got the better end of the deal.
My personal challenge was therefore to consider what the early workers experienced, compared to the latecomers.
The people in the marketplace had all wanted to be working – when the landowner went out the last time and asked why those who were still there were standing around and doing nothing, they said it was because no one had hired them (20:6-7), not that they were not interested in employment. In South Africa, is easy enough to imagine the feelings of frustration and hopelessness for these would-be workers – every Saturday, in certain areas, there are many unemployed South Africans waiting by the side of the road in the hope that someone will come past with an offer of work. And many go home at the end of the day without that having happened.
Those working in the parable’s vineyard from early on would have enjoyed the non-financial benefits of security (knowing there would be a denarius at the end of the day), purpose and identity (a sense of ‘belonging’ somewhere), honour (having been seen as someone ‘hireable’) and satisfaction (putting effort into something that would reap a reward). There would probably also have been food and refreshment during the day, and likely a sense of fellowship and companionship with the others working alongside.
All of these things – genuine security, purpose, identity, honour, satisfaction and fellowship – are often only found once someone enters the Kingdom of God, and far outweigh any value that worldly ‘free time’ might have. As an early worker, I look forward to whatever ‘denarius’ is to come, but I am also incredibly grateful for these additional Kingdom benefits that are found inside the vineyard.