Blog # 395 Workers in God's Vineyard
Thinking possibly the ideas and experience I tempted to present in Blog # 394 is not the normal experience most people have in understanding and applying the parable given in Matthew (20: 1 - 16) of the workers in a vineyard, I'll add a few comments in this new blog in hope that will help.
First I expanded the identity of the vineyard by giving it an additional identity to the one that would apply literally to a particular vineyard in the very everyday experience of those listening to Jesus when He gave them the parable. I applied the term figuratively to the entire universe, to all of creation. We believe God is the Creator of all that exists. God owns it. It belongs to God. It is God's vineyard.
There is much going on in the vineyard. Grapes growing is a very small part of it when we see the vineyard as the universe and all of creation. Colors, shapes, sounds, wind, rain, lightning,
stones, stars, moon, are all 'workers' in the vineyard. They are 'hired' by the owner of the vineyard one by one in the Creator's will that they exist. All inanimate creatures are perfectly 'obedient' to the Creator's will. This sets a good example and inspiration for me when I think about my responsibility in freedom to obey the Creator's will. As I walk over to the church each morning in the sunshine, my shadow is perfectly 'obedient' to every step I take. God the Creator of all that exists is that close to us, in the shadow, in the sun, my shoes, and the motion of my feet. Addressing Him in prayer comes easily. "The reign of God is like the case of the owner of an estate, who went out at dawn to hire workmen for his vineyard..." (Mat. 20:1).
The second thing I did in response to the parable of the workers was to try to discover any difference there was between the workers hired early in the morning and those hired just before the workday was over. The text of the parable does not indicate that any of the workers were fired by the owner for not doing enough work or for doing the work they did badly. In real life, God needs nothing that we can do for God. "I take from your house no bullock, no goats out of your fold. For mine are all the animals of the forests, beasts by the thousands on my mountains. I know all the birds of the air, and whatever stirs in the plains, belong to me. If I were hungry, I should not tell you, for mine are the world and its fullness." ( Psalm 50: 7 - 13. As we stand before God our Creator, more important than what we accomplish is our relationship to the Creator.
Both groups of workers in the parable were obedient. Both picked grapes. Their motives and the basis for their motives seems to hold the key to discovering the difference between them that resulted in a different response to their work on the part of the owner. Apparently the primary motive on the part of the workers who worked all day was their pay, money. The workers hired late must have known they did not earn many hours of pay but they must have been thankful to the owner they at least received work even for a short time, and they trusted in the owner that he would pay them for that. There is no mention in the parable of a contract here. The basis for their motivation was primarily a relationship with the owner rather than a contract and money.
As a result of these different motives the work of the first group was worthy of justice and they received money, and the second group could be given generous love. Love must be free, freely given and freely received. We do not earn it, but we must be free to receive it. Properly motivated obedience is always an expression of love. Love is destroyed by serious sin and distorted or weakened by lack of understanding of what it means to love. Other motives that weaken love are fear, lack of awareness, and desire for reward. This seems to be where the Pharisees had their greatest problems with the teachings of Jesus. They were known for their obedience to the law, but they obeyed in order to bring recognition to themselves, for the first seats in the synagogue, and special marks of honor on their clothing rather than giving God the love, the glory, and the praise that were His due. Distracted by their attitudes they were not free to receive God's generous gift of love.