The Laborers in the VineyardMatthew 20:1-16 (NRSVUE)
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And 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?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When 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.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received a denarius. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘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.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Okay, so imagine with me a potluck table…
There are salads and sandwiches, maybe chili and soup, casseroles and appetizers, chips and dips, crackers and cheeses, and lots of finger foods. Oh, and let’s not forget the desserts! Sounds delicious, right? But I wonder, have you ever been to a potluck lunch, and everyone brought desserts? It could happen if it’s a true potluck and there are no sign-ups, but you know what? Then you get to sit and eat lots of desserts with your friends. Is that a bad thing? Not in my book!
But it is because of that fear that people often have a signup sheet for a potluck to take the unknown or the “luck” aspect out of it, making sure that not everyone brings the same thing and that there is lots of variety. Because we like to know what to expect and what is going to happen. Basically, we like to be in control.
But a signup sheet can also work to evaluate not only the food and who is bringing what but also whether or not each person is doing their part. Because what if someone just brings a bag of chips, but I bring a main dish, a salad, and a dessert. That’s not fair, is it? But the truth is, a potluck is not about being fair. It’s about hospitality, community, and most importantly, GRACE!!
In today’s parable of the vineyard owner, Jesus was trying to explain that the Kingdom of God is not something that can be purchased by hard work or by money. On the contrary, it is a gift given not because of who we are but because of who God is. This means that we can never earn it by our kind actions or our hours worked, or even by the food we bring to share at a potluck. It is free to those who would receive it!
So does that mean we don’t need to work or be kind to others? I mean, if God is simply going to give us good things at no cost, why should we put in the effort? If all we need to do is sit around and wait for God’s grace to feed us and take care of us and shower us with good things? Well, that’s not quite the way it works. because if we truly live lives of faith, we think not only of ourselves but of our community, loving our neighbors, whoever our neighbors might be, and not worrying that everything is exactly even and fair, but doing what we can and sharing ourselves, for the good of our community.
Now, perhaps you like to bake cookies, and you make a great chicken casserole, and you love green beans with almonds, and you decide that you want to bring all three to the potluck. That’s wonderful!! But don’t look down on the person next to you if they had a busy and stressful week, and they brought a bag of corn chips that they bought at the gas station on their way here because they didn’t have time to cook. Or a neighbor who came empty-handed because money is really tight this week. Or a visitor who didn’t know that we were having a potluck luncheon and who I hope and pray will feel the extravagant welcome to come and join us as they are!
Folks, the potluck table, like the kingdom of God, is a table of abundance and grace, a place where you are invited to come as you are whether you come empty-handed or your need to make five trips to your car to carry in all of the things that you brought to share. And no one is keeping score! But unfortunately, like the vineyard workers in today’s scripture reading, society teaches us that it’s not about hospitality and grace and loving-kindness; but on the contrary, things need to be fair and even. We need to keep score to see who is working hard and who is slacking off. I’m sure you’ve heard it in the church before, “Why don’t those people do anything? They never help out!” Because the world teaches us that you need to work for all that you receive, and you only receive a reward for what you’ve given or done. But didn’t the first worker receive what the landowner promised them? The only reason they were mad was that the landowner decided to be generous with the others. If the manager had paid the workers in order of when they came, paying the first, first and the last, last and they wouldn’t know that the others were also paid for the whole day, and they would have happily headed home, denarius in hand, being thankful that the landowner had hired them for the day. But instead, because the landowner was generous with some, they felt as though they had been cheated.
Folks, I have to say, though my societal mind understands why they might have been frustrated in my heart, my faith knows that God’s way is better because when we focus on abundance and grace rather than the shortcomings of others and what we think we deserve. There is always enough for everyone.
Folks, God’s table is one of plenty! And at God’s table, we have more than we can ever imagine and more grace than we can ever expect. To be honest, God often gives us more than we would probably give ourselves. But God also calls us to be generous with what we are given because it is then, and only then, that at God’s potluck table of grace, even the last in line has more than enough to eat!
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as we leave here today, let’s not just go out to attend a potluck luncheon, but let’s be a potluck church, having faith that there will always be enough and appreciating the diversity of others and the unique gifts that each of us, in our own way share for the common good.
Folks, as Christians, each and every one of us, rather than complaining, worrying about what everyone else is doing, and looking at the shortcomings of our neighbors, we should all think of how we can love and serve others, whoever they might be. Because at the table of grace, there is room for everyone, even you and me!
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!