The world is full of analogies, similes and metaphors which can help us understand the dynamics of our spiritual life. Jesus used them all the time. More often than not, he used images from our everyday life which operate as windows into the eternal truths of the Kingdom of God. This coming Sunday at S Giles we'll hear one of these in our Gospel lesson.
In the parable of the labourers in the vineyard the extraordinary generosity and compassion of God is revealed. In first century Palestine, workers often had to wait each day in the marketplace until someone hired them - more often than not just for that one day. The expression "no work, no eat" was an economic reality, more than a moral principle. Throughout the day the householder (or employer) goes into the marketplace, hiring some in the morning, some in the afternoon, and some just an hour before the work day ended. All seems to go as expected in the story, until the very end.
And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, `Call the labourers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.' And when those hired about the eleventh hour 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.
What is the point Jesus is making? God is generous. Period. There are no limits to his generosity. When he invites us into relationship with him, the invitation has no qualifiers - there is no small print. The thief on the cross will enjoy the same God in paradise as will St Paul himself! It is tempting to try and delve into the psychology of the labourers that started working in the morning. The Gospel says they "they grumbled at the householder." But St John Chrysostom warns us:
But we ought not to pursue through every particular the circumstances of a parable; but enter into its general scope, and seek nothing further. This then is not introduced in order to represent some as moved with envy, but to exhibit the honour that shall be given us as so great as that it might stir the jealousy of others.
The point of the parable, Chrysostom says, is not the envy of the labourers, but the generosity of the householder. This seems to fit well with the words of the householder at the end of the parable: "do you begrudge my generosity?" The labourers who started working in the morning forgot one vital fact: it was the householder's generosity that employed them in the first place!
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