The Parable of the Generous Employer – Matthew 20:1-18
What can work, wages and welfare teach us about God?
I was at the job centre in August and found myself just sitting there as people came, sat down, had their names called, had their appointment and then left. This happened for over forty minutes while I was waiting to be seen. A lot of the regular staff were on holiday and I was left feeling fed up by the time I had my appointment. It really did seem to be like the words of Jesus here “the first will be last and the last first”.
Against the grain
According to the Jewish historian Josephus, this was a time of high unemployment and high taxes.
So the story goes against the grain. The employer could pay what he liked; there were no unions to protect the worker, no lawyers to claim unfair dismissal, no unemployment benefits.
Going against the grain, or swimming against the tide feels wrong… Sometimes we can feel like the man driving on the motorway and getting a call from his wife. She warned him “Albert, I just heard on the news that there’s some crazy person driving the wrong way on the M56,” and Albert replied “Mary, it’s not just one, there’s hundreds of them”.
In the parable, the employer is:
Persistent – He keeps going out
Pertinent – He asks the right questions
Patient – He doesn’t get tired with people
This eccentric employer:
a) goes out himself to find workers. He doesn’t delegate to the foreman (v8)
b) goes out early (v1)
c) goes out of his way to give work to those in need;
d) keeps going back
e) gives each a full day’s pay, even when they only worked an hour.
God does not give us what we deserve, but gives us what we do not deserve.
A friend of mine joined a group after wanting to stop a destructive habit in his life. In the group, they discussed 12 steps they follow. The third step is giving your life to the god of your own understanding. He got to a point when he realised that he needed to know God for himself, but as he began to study the bible, there were many things he couldn’t understand, but he knew he could trust God, because he had begun a relationship, through Jesus, which freed him from his habit and gave him a whole new life.
I’ve been a Christian for 17 years and have only begun to scratch the surface of understanding who God is. I’ve long since realised that I’m never really going to ‘understand’ God. I’ve known Ann for 18 years; we actually had our 18th anniversary last month. She’s my best friend and the closest person to me in the whole world. But for all of that, I really don’t understand her!
Bridge to Hawaii
A man walking along a California beach was deep in prayer. All of a sudden, he said out loud, “Lord, grant me one wish.”
The sunny California sky clouded above his head and in a booming voice, and the Lord said, “Because you have tried to be faithful to me in all ways, I will grant you one wish.”
The man said, “Build a bridge to Hawaii so I can drive over any time I want.”
The Lord said, “Your request is very materialistic. Think of the enormous challenges for that kind of undertaking. The supports required to reach the bottom of the Pacific! The concrete and steel it would take over thousands of miles! I can do it, but it is hard for me to justify your desire for worldly things. Take a little more time and think of another wish, a wish you think would honour and glorify me.”
The man thought about it for a long time. Finally he said, “Lord, I wish that I could understand my wife. I want to know how she feels inside, what she is thinking when she gives the silent treatment, why she cries, what she means when she says ” nothing!”, and how I can make her truly happy.”
The Lord replied, “You want two lanes or four lanes on that bridge?”
If this is true of another person, how more true is it of God. Who Can understand God?
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD.9“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9
The evil eye
We are all workers in the kingdom, not just those who work in church. In homes and raising families, in schools, offices and factories. Ecclesiastes 3:10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.
But we can become distracted when we focus on what have done, or when we look at others and begin to compare.
It’s good to compare Car insurance, broadband and mobile deals, but comparison doesn’t work in the kingdom.
It’s Not Fair
It’s not fair, Jesus doesn’t care
We worked so hard in the heat of the day
And these last minute jokers just get the same pay
It’s not fair, now I’ve got grey hair,
I’m ready to retire at the end of the day
And all these losers have been sitting in the hay
It’s not fair; I’m before God’s great chair
I’ve served the Lord all my life until the last day
And these sinners come to heaven and are allowed stay
It’s not fair, we’ve all sinned our share
We’ve thought, said and done things that we’re ashamed to say
And Jesus paid the debt that we couldn’t pay
It’s not fair, that the burden He did bear
Opened wide the door and showed all of us His way
And become a child of God, so it’s OK!
The greatest revelation I’ve ever had, became clearer after coming to St Chad’s last year. That revelation was that I am a child of God. After leading a church plant for seven years, it came to an end and God told me he was going to strip away all the layers of stuff I’d picked up as a pastor, so that I could enjoy being a Christian again. I’d become frustrated that I was doing all the right things, but seeing little benefit from my efforts. It was when I took a back seat and came to St Chad’s, that my faith became less about doing and more about being.
As I was writing this, I read a tweet from Pastor Tim Keller in the US:
“Religion makes us proud of what we have done, the gospel makes us proud of what Jesus has done”
God is not fair as we understand ‘fair’ – He goes beyond fair.
In the previous chapter (Mt 19), Peter states that they have left everything to follow Jesus. Jesus replies that no one, having left all will regret their decision; they will receive much more in this life and the ‘world to come’. The story is to illustrate that the reward is personal to you and not related to what others receive. In John 21:21, Peter asks what is going to happen to John, but Jesus replies “What is that to you? You follow me.” (v22)
He is a good and generous father, who loves us because of who we are, rather than what we do.
My daughter has just got an A in iGCSE French, she has a grade 8 in Ice Skating and grade 3 Piano. She’s Played tennis and learned to ride and ski, but I don’t love her because of her achievements, I love her because she’s our child. Our two sons have no qualifications, no certificates, no grades, but I love them just as much as our daughter, just because they’re our children.
There’s nothing you can do to earn God’s love. Maybe the best response to this story is just to enjoy being a child of God.