The Vineyard of the Lord
“I choose to give to this last as I give to you. Am I
not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs
to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?”
How easy it is to decide that the stories of Jesus are for children, along with nursery rhymes and fairy tales, and have no practical considerations for the titans of industry or the power brokers of the world. But approach his wonderful stories as one prepared to be entertained by the imagination of God, as one challenged by the authority of God, as one ready to be guided to new levels of understanding by the wisdom of God, and there’s no way we will ever walk away unchanged. For that is why the Lord tells his stories to the ages: to create change within us that we may change the world.
Take for example the bible story that Pam set before us. On the surface it seems harmless enough ~ a story about the owner of a vineyard who was always in need of day laborers, especially at harvest time. But there is danger in such a simple story, and the danger comes from the quiet assumptions and latent prejudices that it awakens, causing us to see what needs to change within us.
For example, some workers showed up bright and early, ready for work at the crack of dawn, grateful for the opportunity to work. And somewhere in listening to the story we allow ourselves to assume that these were the most diligent workers, ready to put in a full day’s work for a full day’s pay as the most industrious souls are wont to be.
Then we learn from the storyteller that about noon some other workers show up and they too are sent out into the vineyard to work. And without bringing thought into full consciousness, we allow ourselves to assume that they are clearly lazier workers, sleeping late, wasting time, expecting life to take care of them, and certainly not diligent about investing themselves fully into the great adventure of life.
Then again, late in the afternoon and early into the evening, the storyteller reveals that others show up needing work, and they too were sent into the vineyard. And when we see them coming in our mind’s eye, looking refreshed for not laboring under the heat of the sun, they seem the most undeserving of all. After all, if they were as conscientious as we they would have come earlier, and invested themselves more diligently.
By now, you’ll notice, we’re no longer casual spectators to some hypothetical story, we are engaged with certain opinions, judgments, expectations as the story unfolds within us. Then, once invested, the Lord springs the trap as he reveals that those who worked the least in the vineyard were paid a full day’s wages, causing the others to expect that they would be paid more. But alas, they were all paid the same wage.
How can this be? the hardest workers exclaim, and we along with them, assuming that the owner of the vineyard is a captain of industry. It is a fundamental principle of capitalism, that we have a moral right to be rewarded in direct proportion to our labor! So also the socialists among us begin to cheer ~ “Yes, there it is, a guaranteed basic income for all, the distribution of wealth according to need without regard for work done.., until, until they realize that the owner of the vineyard is not big government taking from the rich and giving to the poor!
Lord, tell us, in the present struggle between capitalism and socialism, give us a hint, which is best? Are we to undermine personal initiative by paying people who don’t work? Or are we denying personal need by rewarding people only according to their work performed? Suddenly, this is no child’s tale but is commentary on the social, economic, political, and religious struggle in America!
And as we struggle with the offense of it all, no longer as idle spectators but as impassioned participants drawn into a moral debate that affects us personally, the words of the Lord return with a haunting sense of inevitability, like a truth that will not fade, that will not be defeated by human reason nor allow itself to be intimidated by moral indignation: I choose to give to this last as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?
Gradually this imagined story line ~ no, this theme of history ~ is not about human labor but divine generosity, and the laboring is not a right but a privilege, and the goal is not to see who gets the most at the end of the day, but about the abundance and generosity of God providing a sustainable life for all God’s children.
Then we realize that what is being critiqued by the Son of God is human history, for Earth is the Vineyard of God, that garden planet in the midst of a dark cosmos with the light of a single star shining upon it. And the vineyard with all of its harvests belongs to God and not to the workers, until it begins to dawn on us that Jesus was giving us a God-sized vision of the unfolding patterns of civilization ~ how some emerging societies seem to have a head start, an economic advantage over other societies that emerge and develop later.
Long before we referred to them as the first world, and the second world and the third world. the Lord was giving the future titans of industry and the power brokers of the world a glimpse of how the emerging populations of the earth would enter the global economy.
And to them the parable declares in no uncertain terms that this unfoldment in stages did not happen so that some nations could claim an advantage over others, so that some could feel more entitled to the wealth of the planet, but that all might discover the generosity and abundance of God in the global vineyard.
And the nationalists begin to feel the injustice of it all, after all those nations that invested more in the global economy are entitled to a greater percentage of the wealth that is generated from their investments. So also the globalists start to rejoice in the possibilities: Yes, that is precisely what we’re trying to do, to create a center of economic power in order to impose economic justice for all! Only, that only works if they are indeed the owners of the vineyard, and so long as they share everyone else’s wealth and not their own!
And we turn to the Lord ~ the Storyteller ~ and say, “OK, Lord, we get the point. Just tell us what the perfect social, economic, cultural, and political world order is and we’ll try to implement it!”
“Lord? Lord, don’t go silent on me now?” And in the silence the message comes: “I believe in you and I know you’ll figure it out. Just know that the harvest if mine, that I am with you always, and that I love you all unconditionally.”
And we’re left with all of our false assumptions that cause us to resent the generosity of God, and our prejudices by which we allow ourselves to feel more deserving of God’s love.
It is easier it is to decide that the stories of Jesus are for children along with nursery rhymes and fairy tales, and have no practical considerations for the titans of industry and the power brokers of the world. But maybe if they discover in this parable that they too are children of God, they will decide to become part of the solution and not part of the problem.
David Hodgson, Peoria Presbyterian Church, May 2,2021