May 24, 2020

We Are All Essential Workers In Gods Vineyard

Passage: Matthew 20:1-16
Service Type:

Over the past few months we have been hearing the term essential workers over and over again.

Each time I heard that something in me became uneasy and I wasn’t aware why. As I pondered it over and over, I became aware why – who is to say who is essential and who is not?

For example, doctors, nurses, EMTs, and food stores workers are clearly essential

  • but who gets to decide the long list of other essential workers
  • and conversely who gets to decide who is not essential.

What about the waitress at the Brick Diner who brings me coffee when I’m about to go through withdrawal, the bank teller who knows my name or the florist who creates these works of art on my wife’s birthday.

The truth is the reason I am disturbed by the term essential is that only God gets to decide who is essential and it is clear from God’s Word that we are all essential.

In the book Brave New World humankind is created and conditioned for whatever role they play in society. This genetically-engineered world is pain-free but meaningless.

In a word I have to say that Rhonda, who cuts my hair, is essential. Not only because she knows that my sides and the back of my head get a number 3 razor and the rest gets scissor cut but that she knows what I do for my vocation, prays for me and works really hard to support her daughters.

This parable is one of my favorites.

 Matthew 20:1–16 The Workers In The Vineyard

‘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 market-place; 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.’


I used to really struggle over this parable and wonder what it was all about. I used to feel for the workers who had been there all day and think, yeah they should feel ripped off. The story didn’t gel with the Jesus who would favor the poor. Here he was in this story giving the same pay to those who worked only an hour as to those who bore the heat all day.

It was author, Philip Yancey who helped me understand that this is a parable about grace. In this case it was his book, ‘What’s So Amazing About Grace?’ If you haven’t read this book you can borrow mine. So, as so often with Philip Yancey’s writing, reading this book opened my eyes to what Jesus was talking about in this parable.

This parable is a story about grace. It actually has nothing to do with justice and equal pay. The fact that I tried to interpret this parable in terms of workers being treated fairly for the effort they put in shows how much this world’s thinking has been a part of who I am. And it shows how much it has affected my view of God.

You see, what this parable shows is that God gives out gifts, not wages. Grace is completely opposite to the way the world works. It’s a completely different mindset. In a world where it’s all about ‘what goes around comes around’, grace says no. It’s nothing short of a revolution. It was a completely new way of thinking in Jesus’ day and that’s why it caused such an outrage amongst the Pharisees. The ones who thought they were right with God couldn’t cope with the idea of a God who forgives without asking any questions. With the Pharisees it was all about rules. Doing the ‘right thing’ took priority over people.

 So essential to God is all humankind that when I first heard the poem, the star thrower based on Loren Eiseley story I realized that I saw myself in a wrong light. Hearing the poem something in my moved in a good and freeing way. I realized God sees not as I see… not myself nor other human beings. God sees through the eyes of Grace.

 The Star Thrower

A man was walking on the beach one day and noticed a boy who was reaching down, picking up a starfish and throwing it in the ocean.  As he approached, he called out, “Hello!  What are you doing?”  The boy looked up and said, “I’m throwing starfish into the ocean”.  “

 Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the man.  “The tide stranded them.  If I don’t throw them in the water before the sun comes up, they’ll die” came the answer. 

 “Surely you realize that there are miles of beach, and thousands of starfish.  You’ll never throw them all back, there are too many.  You can’t possibly make a difference.” 

 The boy listened politely, then picked up another starfish.  As he threw it back into the sea, he said, “It made a difference for that one.”

For God so loves the world he sent not the son to condemn the world, but so the world would be saved through him.

This parable is about our human perceptions and is a wake-up call to test our perceptions and to challenge who and what has worth. Jesus is challenging us to see the essentiality of all humankind.  And in so doing I believe we will have a better, calmer, gentler more productive and cooperative humanity.

 In order to ask ourselves who we have been counting as unessential just ask yourself this question. Who are the bad guys?  Let’s do that now – let’s pause in silence, and ponder the bad guys, and as you ponder them, I want you to give me the gift of your trust.  Picture them in a bucket attached to a rope and pully that leads to God. Put them in the bucket, pull the rope, and lift them up to God. And when they get to God let God love them.  Amen!