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The Labourers in the Vineyard

Matthew 20:1-16

Pastor Kurt Hoover delivers a great message and perspective of what the parable can mean for us today.  Pastor Hoover speaks of realizing that we have enough to live and for us to rethink what we have our focus on within our lives.  Are we saving for ourselves or are we saving for our family, friends, community?

September 21, 2008
19th Sunday in Pentecost
Matthew 20:1-16
The Labourers in the Vineyard

Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ

Are you envious because I am generous??

The whole point of Jesus parable is the idea of generosity. Generosity in its truest and most faithful reality flies in the face of fairness, efficiency, productivity, even frugality. More precisely generosity flies in the face of the idea of money and getting paid.  

Jesus' point is that God is generous. He will provide the same daily needs for the gentile as the Jew. Of more shock to his hard working, religious, law abiding, Jewish audience was the idea that God is so generous that he might provide the same salvation and resurrection, the same place in heaven for a gentile just figuring out what it means to believe in God as for the Jewish rabbi or businessmen who had worked his whole life at pleasing God. To God the more important question is that people see they belong and know they make a difference and that God provides for each of us, no matter how long we have been working for God rather then ourselves, we all receive the same relationship now and in the future.  

The key is not how long we have been working for the owner, but that we have given up the idea that any of this stuff, belongs to us.  

Jesus makes that point clearly by placing his audience then and now ... his audience of good minded home economist and business men, hardworking men and women who deserve every cent they earn. He challenges them with the example of a landowner giving out the same wage to each worker even though some were standing around in the market place half the day. He hands out the same payment to the guy with a GED as he does to the MBA, the same payment to the specialist as the temp worker, the same payment to the professional with 20 years of experience as to the new kid fresh out of school. He pays all of us the same.  

And that is Jesus point and that is his question? Why are you standing idle? You have all that you need, air to breath, community, food, friendship, shelter, a good name, ... It is not yours to be squandered, but rather it is an invitation to come and work in the kingdom, God's Kingdom, the community, the church, your own neighborhood... It is an invitation and a reminder that none of this is ours. Our homes, our jobs, our power, our influence, our money, our family, ... It is all God's vineyard, He is the owner you are simply the worker. And the pay doesn't come in dollars and cents but in air to breath and hours in a day. We all get the same, we have all that we need. That is how generous God is!      

The guy who wastes his money on gambling and toys, is getting the same as the good steward tithing to his church and volunteering in his community.  

God is generous and he wants us to be the same toward one another and with the resources we have been given on this earth.  

(B) Now I have been doing some thinking about this generosity thing. I like to think of myself as a generous person. But truth be told I'm a tight wad, I am stingy, I'm frugal...

Take for example my daughter and her infatuation with stickers...

Myka loves stickers...We asked her what she wants' to get her friends for their birthdays and every time it is a sticker book. You would think there are probably tons of different types of sticker books out there...there aren't .... There aren't to many different types of sticker books in the Iowa market. All the ones at Wal-mart, we have done them, hobby lobby, done them... There are about 12, maybe 20 and we have done them all; some twice. We have even moved on to trucks; and Thomas the Train (those ones don't stick so well by the way)...  

Myka could fill a book shelf with her completed sticker books and various pieces of papers with random assortments of stickers on them. She gets stickers all the time from family and friends ... we have stickers coming out of ears ... it is not uncommon to see Molly or I at the store, church, nice restaurant, with stickers on our clothing and most often were we can't see them ... on our backs ... and uh ...other lower places. At the end of the day I peel stickers of the bottoms of my socks before I throw them in the basket.  

It has come to the point that if I see a sticker stuck to the carpet (a daily thing in our house) I will pick it up, fold it in half and throw it in the garbage. We have all the stickers we need. I am beyond generous with stickers.

But I have not always been this way. There was a point in Myka's early years where I was stingy with stickers. If I saw a sticker on the floor I would try to save it. I would look for a sticker pad try and put it back so Myka could use it again later. Or I would find some place of value to put it so that it wouldn't go to waste. You know stick it to the cereal box  because then it can at least be enjoyed for the duration of that cereal. (Don't tell me you haven't done it? -- how many of you have ever tried to save a sticker, raise your hands). It used to tear me apart to throw away a sticker. I used to do the math on what it took to make that sticker the paper and the color image, and the 3M sticky stuff. Or divide it by the cost of the 20 stickers. 'That's like a two cent sticker, of Cinderella just laying there pasted to the garage floor.'

So listening to Jesus explanation of generosity and getting into this time of year when we are all asked to think more deeply about the power of money. And this is my point here.  I started asking myself, why is it that I am so stingy with something as insignificant as a sticker. Why is it that I could let a dollars worth of wasted stickers in any given week bug me so greatly.  

And I came across three things:

I have been trained to appreciate art, even on a sticker. I love to pile things up and save them for just the right time. I value stickers way to highly. The root of the problem lies in how I have been trained to value my pile of stickers.

1) [trained] The first is simple. I was an art major in college. I know what it takes to reproduce a well designed image involving multiple colors over and over again. I know how much a color copy on our copier at work cost us, much less the shinny stuff that stickers are made of. In fact, truth be told, I never had a problem throwing away the ugly stickers. It was the big, unique ones that bothered me most. I know the work that went into making that image, the creativity. I know what it takes!

2) [pile] But more precisely I traced my sticker stinginess back to Myka's first introduction to stickers. It was zip lock bag, the freezer type, a big one, full of stickers that Molly had collected through College, student teaching, and five years in elementary. Mostly, good job, A+, but then also just any other kind of stickers hearts, and seasonal stuff.  Probably 150 sheets of stickers. Myka always wanted to play with the stickers in this bag and we started off stingy. We would give her a sheet of smiley faces and then carefully monitor how she placed them on a piece of paper to create a collage. Then we would place that sheet with 3 or 4 stickers left in another pile until we had whole pile of half sheets or 2-3 sticker sheets. And every time it came to just Myka and I playing with the stickers I would make her use up the old ones before starting on a brand new sheet. But, Myka always wanted to use the new shinny sheets. If she had it her way she would get to go through the whole bag and pick what ever stickers she wanted. And I can't tell you how bad it hurt the first day I came home and all the contents of moms' treasure trove of stickers were laying out on the floor. Mom gave up long before I did, but I couldn't, to me that represented Molly's zip lock life savings of stickers she had worked so long and hard to gather all those together, finding stickers on sale at the teacher store, some of them were presents from me. I realized I was stingy because this was in many ways a nest egg of stickers, I didn't want to blow them in one place, or on one child.
As it is we did, they are all gone now... we have moved on to sticker books!

3) [value] I also found that as I asked myself why I was so stingy with stickers (remember that is my point -- Why am I not generous as God has taught me to be and expects me to be.)  I also think it has something to do with putting to high a value on a sticker. How many of you had sticker collections when you were a kid? I did, I had the book with the special slick inside and the plastic sheets covering each page. Don't laugh Molly had one too.  I had puffy stickers and glittery stickers, lots of shinny stickers... and we would trade them. I realized that I had placed a higher value on a piece of sticky paper then I had on my own child's smile. We spend more in a week on food for Myka then we ever have in stickers. It is my greatest joy to invest in my daughter's well being and I was getting stingy over stickers?

(C) And this is precisely God's point in the parable. We don't own the vineyard. We don't own our possessions rather we are invited by the great landowner who created it all in the first place...we are invited by God to not be idle, but use our wealth as Americans in the twentieth century who have a higher standard of living, possession wise, then 98% of the world... we are invited to give up the idea of what is mine and what is yours so that we can be of benefit to the larger work of the kingdom, the community, the country, the congregation.  

When I look at my generosity with money the same general problem emerges. I am stingy. The root of the problem lies in how I have been trained to value my pile of money.

1) [value] I started collecting money a long time ago. Not in a fancy nonstick book so I could trade it with others, but I was collecting it none the less. And since I first got a paycheck I have been placing a higher value on digits on a piece of paper, then my brother or sister. The longer I have been saving it the harder I work to earn it the more value I put on it. I start to give it and the things I could buy with it more importance then my children, and their education, and the community they live in. I begin to loose touch with my truest and deepest desire to make difference in the lives of not only those I love, but the world as a whole because I get caught up in the number game and what the next big chunk of money can get me.

2) [pile] That problem has only gotten worse as I have gathered it and invested it over the years creating my own humble sense of net worth. I worked hard for that bag of money.  I don't keep it in a zip lock bag under the mattress. This is my life's savings, and the Roth IRA, all that I have invested in my house which is to big for us anyway. None of us need all the stuff we have, yet we worked hard to get it so darned if we are just going to give it away.  

3) [trained] What is perhaps hardest for us highly educated citizens of the largest economy in the world, is that we know what money can do. We know what it takes to create that nest egg or get that mythical idea of financial security. We know how money works and we know how hard it is to get. We have been trained that money is the only type of payment we receive in life. We have been taught that the harder we work, the more educated we are, the more we sacrifice, the more experience on the job ... we have been taught that the harder we work the more we get.  

10Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12saying, "These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us

Minister's of God, Jesus is here teaching the same thing to us that he taught long ago. The greatest things in life, the greatest payment we receive is not measured in dollars and cents.  You have all that you need and we are each given the same amount. Don't sacrifice the air that you breath, the health that you have, the smile of a child, the hours you can share with family and friends, the fulfillment of a job well done ... chasing the almighty dollar.  


God has all that you need and he is generous. God provides all that you need. Because of Jesus teaching and spirit you are generous toward one another with the resources you have been given on this earth.  


Rev. Kurt Hoover is pastor of St. John American Lutheran Church of Cedar Falls, IA.

Author information was updated as of the article's post date. Author profiles may not reflect author's current employment or location.

Image credit: © Ignacio García Losa ( via Flickr. Used by permission.

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