Parables are comparisons in which spiritual truth is pictured in vivid terms (Blomberg 1990). “Jesus’ invitation to enter his Kingdom comes in the form of parables, a characteristic feature of his teaching (Cf. Mk 4:33-34).
The Parable that was just read is commonly known as the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. Mark Bailey calls this parable, “A day on the job in the kingdom of God.” (because the work takes place throughout the day and the payroll is at the end of the day.)
The parable emphasizes the times that the laborers were hired. The Landowner hired laborers early in the morning (6:00) and made an agreement with them to pay them a denarius for the day’s work. It says the owner agreed which makes me think the workers asked for the denarius and he agreed to it.
The Landowner went out again at 9:00, 12:00, 3:00 and 5:00 and asked others if they would like to come to work without indicating what they would earn, only that he would be fair (vs. 4). If the first guy is going to get 1 denarius for 12 hours work, what do you expect the 2nd group to get? 3/4, then 1/2 then 1/4 and then 1/12th respectively.
At the end of the day, the Landowner went to pay them and started with the last group. He gave them each 1 denarius. What do you expect the next group to get? Three denarii. The next group six, and the next nine and the first group that was hired expects to get 12 denarii. But he gave everyone the same amount – one denarius – regardless of whether they had worked one hour or twelve hours.
It is not surprising therefore, that those were hired first complained and accused the owner of being unfair.
But the owner justifies his actions:
- on the basis of agreement – they agreed to work for a denarius. The owner calls him “friend” which in Matt is not a term of endearment.
- on the basis of ownership – can I do what I want with what is mine?
- on the basis of generosity – can I be gracious to whom I want to be gracious?
Again, is the landowner unjust or unfair? Certainly not. The landowner is just when he paid them all individually with the same amount or salary because that was the thing agreed upon by the landowner and the labourers. The landowner is generous, compassionate and merciful when he paid them all individually with the same amount regardless of of whether they had worked one hour or twelve hours. Simply stated, the landowner is not unjust. Rather he is both just and gracious or compassionate or merciful.
This is the message and the challenge for all of us who are adopted children of God: to be just yet gracious, merciful and compassionate. “Mercy without justice is baloney. Justice without mercy is tyranny.”
“Grace and mercy are both expressions of God’s love, grace to the guilty and undeserving, mercy to the needy and helpless” (John Stott, The Letters of John). Let us, therefore, be merciful as Jesus is merciful (Lk 6:36) for “whoever acts without mercy will be judged without mercy” (James 2:13).May we have mercy on all, especially to those who are going through a time when they are given little or no mercy.
Prayer: Father, may I love those considered unlovable.