Matthew 20:1-16 (NRSV)
20"For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3When he went out about nine o'clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4and he said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.' So they went. 5When he went out again about noon and about three o'clock, he did the same. 6And about five o'clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, 'Why are you standing here idle all day?' 7They said to him, 'Because no one has hired us.' He said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard.' 8When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, 'Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.' 9When those hired about five o'clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 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 who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.' 13But he replied to one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?' 16So the last will be first, and the first will be last."
In this parable, Jesus describes the common practice of the times. Laborers would come to the village center and hope to find a day’s worth of work for a day’s wage. But some of these workers are down on their luck. They don’t find employment until the day is far spent.
While the full day’s wage is barely enough to feed a family, we can only imagine what little pay could be expected when the workers are so late in getting started.
In a generosity that is nothing short of scandalous, the owner of the vineyard throws aside normal practices for payment. Rather, he gives the laborers what is “right.” While it seems terribly wrong to the diligent folks who have worked all day, it is right in the owner’s eyes that everyone goes home with enough pay to buy food for their families.
Generous God, it is always your desire that each of your children has enough. Thank you that your way of counting what is “right” is less about calculating, and more about compassion. Amen.