This Sunday I will wrap up my series of sermons entitled Jesus the Good Troublemaker as we celebrate “The Good Trouble of Extravagant Grace.”
Jesus often told parables with a surprise ending, and our scripture reading this Sunday is an excellent example of that. It is usually called the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard, and that parable surely scandalized the people who heard it.
Imagine Jesus’ parable set on a ranch just west of Fort Worth. It’s late August and the rancher is clearing some land and is in a hurry to get the job done so he can meet a deadline for starting construction on his ranch house. He takes his crew cab truck to the day laborer site early in the morning and hires several workers, agreeing to pay them $100.00 for a long day’s work. Two or three hours later he needs more workers, so he returns and hires several more to work on the site. After working for a while, once again, it seems as though they will not be able to get the job done with the number of people they have. So he returns and hires several more workers a little after noon. Then, just one hour before quitting time he goes again and hires more workers.
At quitting time, all the men line up to receive their pay; those who had only worked one hour are first and receive $100.00 for their work! The ones who were hired early in the morning hear about this and they say to one another, “Did you hear that?! They got $100.00 for their one hour’s work — goodness knows how much we’ll get!” When they get to the rancher, he hands them each $100.00.
It’s not fair, is it? That is, in fact, what they say, “It’s not fair! We’ve worked all day in the heat and we get paid the same as them!”
The rancher replies, “Didn’t we agree on $100.00?”
“Friends, I did you no wrong. Didn’t I agree to pay you $100? I want to give to those hired last the same as I give to you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with what belongs to me? Or are you resentful because I’m generous?”
I imagine that the rancher hits the nail on the head with that one. Yes, they are resentful because he is generous. That kind of grace will get you into trouble.
If you feel the fairness is all wrong in that story, if it makes you uncomfortable, if you are troubled by that story, then you are not alone! Surely Jesus’ hearers felt the same way when he told it — IT’S JUST NOT FAIR! Jesus called this story a parable of the kingdom of God. The story is about God. It is about the incredible generosity of God — a generosity so extravagant that it makes us feel uncomfortable sometimes. It is that kingdom generosity which so rises above any kind of fairness and sense of rightness that we might have that it troubles us! In fact, it caused Jesus trouble — Good Trouble.
Those workers who only worked an hour got paid the same as those who worked ten. We call that unfairness. But, the owner of the vineyard in Jesus’ parable calls it generosity. As Christians we have another word for it that we use all the time: Grace. We sing about it: “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound. . .” Grace really means simply getting more than one deserves, and that concept is so amazing that it’s troubling. More than one deserves? That doesn’t seem fair, does it? I want those who worked all day to get paid more, don’t you? Or, frankly, in my worst moments, I want those who only worked an hour to get paid a lot less than the others. Isn’t there something within us that wants people to get what they deserve? God’s grace is so amazing that it’s troubling!
The Bible is full of these kinds of stories. People are all the time getting more than they deserve. That’s grace. It somehow doesn’t “fit” with our understanding of fairness, does it? Jesus said that the kingdom of God would be like that. The kingdom of God had a different set of rules. This new age is with us now — we can see glimpses of it all around us: forgiveness, giving, selflessness, caring — these are all marks of the kingdom. Then, there’s generosity, Grace — getting more than you deserve. Jesus said that the rain falls on the just and the unjust, and God makes the sun to shine both on the good and the evil alike.
Once John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, got into Good Trouble and was kicked out of a church after he preached on the extravagant grace of God. Recounting that event, he wrote to a friend, “There is no more repugnant Christian doctrine than the affirmation that we are saved by the grace of God through faith.”
How does Jesus’ parable make you feel? When we read a Bible passage, we can place ourselves in it. Where are you in this story? With whom do you most identify?
What about you? What about me? What do we deserve? We tend to put ourselves in the place of the workers who have worked all day, but what if — just what if — we are in the place of the ones who’ve worked only an hour? Perhaps we ought to try that role on.
Put yourself in the place of the workers who only worked an hour. Now, how does that feel? What generosity! What extravagant grace!
An old proverb says:
When we get what we deserve, that is justice.
When we don’t get what we deserve, that is mercy.
When we get what we don’t deserve, that is grace.
Dr. Tim Bruster
1 “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 After he agreed with the workers to pay them a denarion,[a] he sent them into his vineyard.
3 “Then he went out around nine in the morning and saw others standing around the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I’ll pay you whatever is right.’ 5 And they went.
“Again around noon and then at three in the afternoon, he did the same thing. 6 Around five in the afternoon he went and found others standing around, and he said to them, ‘Why are you just standing around here doing nothing all day long?’
7 “‘Because nobody has hired us,’ they replied.
“He responded, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’
8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the workers and give them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and moving on finally to the first.’ 9 When those who were hired at five in the afternoon came, each one received a denarion. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more. But each of them also received a denarion. 11 When they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 ‘These who were hired last worked one hour, and they received the same pay as we did even though we had to work the whole day in the hot sun.’
13 “But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I did you no wrong. Didn’t I agree to pay you a denarion? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I want to give to this one who was hired last the same as I give to you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with what belongs to me? Or are you resentful because I’m generous?’ 16 So those who are last will be first. And those who are first will be last.”