READING: Matthew 20:1-16
SERMON : "The Generous Landlord"
Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
The following is a more or less complete liturgy and sermon
for the upcoming Sunday. Hymn numbers, designated as VU are
found in the United Church of Canada Hymnal "Voices United".
SFPG is "Songs For A Gospel People", also available from the UCC.
(NIV) For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out
early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. He
agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his
About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the
marketplace doing nothing. He told them, 'You also go and work in
my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.' So they
He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did
the same thing. About the eleventh hour he went out and found
still others standing around. He asked them, 'Why have you been
standing here all day long doing nothing?'
'Because no one has hired us,' they answered.
He said to them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard.'
When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman,
'Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the
last ones hired and going on to the first.'
The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each
received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first,
they expected to receive more. But each one of them also
received a denarius. When they received it, they began to
grumble against the landowner. 'These men who were hired last
worked only one hour,' they said, 'and you have made them equal
to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the
But he answered one of them, 'Friend, I am not being unfair to
you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and
go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave
you. Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money?
Or are you envious because I am generous?'
So the last will be first, and the first will be last."
SERMON: "The Generous Landlord"
Bless Thou, the words of my lips and the meditations of our
hearts that they be of profit to us and acceptable to thee, oh
our rock and our redeemer. Amen
The parable we heart today is titled - in most bibles
- the Parable of Workers in the Vineyard.
I want to suggest to you that it could have a different title, that it
could equally well be called
- the Parable of the Generous Landlord.
Whatever one calls this parable, however, it is for many of us one of the
few parables left in the Bible that still has the power to disturb us, even
to anger us.
Something about this parable offends many people
and if you think about it with me for a minute or two you can see why.
Jesus tell his disciples that the kingdom of heaven is like a landlord who
hires help at various times through the day -
so that some work twelve hours,
and some - the last ones hired - work for only one hour.
So far so good, a normal situation that we can all relate to -
but what follows next is, according to some people, not quite as good,
What happens next is that at the end of the day
when the boss pays off his workers,
those he hired last receive not one hour's pay
but a whole day's pay
Now that's great for them,
but what happens after that according to many people doesn't seem
what happens is that those who worked all day long in the heat of
the sun only get a day's pay.
Is it fair?
Many people do not think so.
Certainly the workers who slaved all day in the heat do not think so,
and they grumble and then complain to the landlord
"these men who were hired last worked only one hour and you have
made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and
the heat of the day"
It is an interesting point.
Has something like this ever happened to you? Has it ever happened that
you have had to work hard to get something - and then some Johnny-come-
lately breezes in and gets the same thing without all the effort?
If it has
then you can understand where the labourers who worked all day long
are coming from.
If it has
then you can understand why the answer of the Landlord doesn't sit too
well with some people,
the answer that says -
"don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money"
It is an upsetting parable - especially if you look at it from the point of
view of someone who believes that those who work harder and longer deserve
more than those who work for less time and without as much difficulty.
The problem that these people have however is precisely that:
- They look at the parable - in fact they look at life - from a point of
view that is simply not God's point of view.
Before going on let us remember that the workers who were hired in the
morning received everything that was due to them for their labour.
They contracted to do a day's work for a day's wage.
That is the primary fact we need to remember. But we might also remember
that those workers who were hired first had a great privilege:
- they knew from the very beginning of the day that they had work
- and they knew that they would be paid fairly for it.
Now, let us look at the parable from the point of view of those hired last.
All day they stood around in the unemployment line
landlords came and went,
but they were not hired.
At home they had family
and nothing to feed them with,
hope disappeared for them
as the sun cut its course across the sky.
They longed to be in the fields under that hot sun working for someone
and at the end of the day being paid a wage which would feed and cloth
just as their last hope is about to set with the sun
someone comes and hires them
and tells them that they will receive whatever is fair.
And they go, and they work with the hope of bringing home something,
a small portion of a day's wage,
enough - maybe - to survive another day
and maybe not.
It's tough my friends, being an outsider,
being one who has no hope - or very little hope.
And I'm not talking here about unemployment
though I know what that is as well.
I'm talking about no hope,
or very little at the best.
And so you can imagine just how those hired last felt when the time to be
They didn't feel very good at all, they knew they were going to get
- would it go around?
- would it really help them all that much?
- would it be enough to feed their wife and their children?
Who might have to go without? Who could afford to eat less?
But then - the landlord does something completely crazy,
completely and totally generous
something beyond their wildest dreams...
He gives them a full day's wage
He gives them a full day's wage
even though they haven't earned it
He gives them enough to live on,
He gives them their families, their homes, their very lives.
That's incredible isn't it.
But that is what happened.
And my friends, that is what the kingdom of heaven is like.
So what is really the problem with the parable?
Why are some people so unhappy with it?
Why do the workers who worked all day grumble and complain?
I think it is because they have forgotten just how lucky they are?
They are so used to the certainty of their salvation
so used to being part of God's work and being guaranteed their reward
that they can no longer remember or imagine what being outside is like.
what being without God is like.
and they begin to complain,
and their complaints are based the worst of all things
they are based on comparisons, and selfish ones at that.
I've worked harder,
I've been here longer,
I've done more.
I had to go through this - so should you.
All sense of their own blessedness disappears.
How sad it is.
But praise God my friends,
praise God because the kingdom of God does not work that way.
- the kingdom of God works on the basis of God's love and not on the basis
of what we deserve.
And a good thing too - for those who laboured all day
could have been those who were not hired until the very end,
they could of been those,
who as in so many of this world's markets
never get hired.
I believe that if the people who are now working in the vineyard,
would only remember how blessed they are,
they would stop grumbling and complaining about other people.
What I am saying is that many people,
need to refresh their thinking about life
and about God.
Look at the parable in another way - look at it in terms of someone you
love - who dies...
Sometimes a person dies full of years and honour , with his days work ended
and his task completed. Sometimes a young person dies before the doors of
life and achievement have been barely opened.
The parable of the Generous Landlord teaches us that from God both will
receive the same welcome. Christ is waiting, for neither, in the divine
sense, has life ended too soon or too late.
My friends, we may be the workers who have worked all day in the heat
but we will be paid what we agreed to,
we are secure and safe - we know what is coming to us - and that
it is enough,
- and as such it is not for us to grumble and complain because God
reaches out to others and treats them well.
There is Gospel in this parable.
The Gospel of The Landlord's love.
The Gospel of God's love.
The Landlord looks at us, our God looks at us, and he sees our needs and he
meets those needs. And the question in God's mind is not 'how much do
these people deserve?'; but rather, 'how can I help them? how can I save
them before they perish?'
And that is God's right - and God's pleasure,
just as it is a landlord's right and pleasure to be generous with his help,
to give them more than they deserve,
to make their hearts glad
if he or she so choses.
It is all grace and blessings my friends.
It is grace to be hired in the morning,
and grace to be hired at noon time
and grace to be hired near the end of the day.
And we do well to remember it.
Jesus said "The last will be first, and the first last."
not to tell us how things are in the world,
but to warn those who are first about the dangers of forgetting how we got
to be first, the danger of being so comfortable in our position of
being first that we dare to question God's love for others who happen
along after us.
Brothers and sisters, the parable of the Generous Landlord is offensive,
if you believe that God's love is something you earn.
It is offensive
if you weigh and measure other people rather than really try to love
them as God loves them.
It is offensive
if you do not cry over the hunger of the unemployed and weep over
those who are wasting their lives away in things that do not profit
It is offensive
if you are the kind of trade unionist who believes that seniority is
the only important thing - or the kind of business man who thinks that
generosity only counts if it is tax deductable.
But for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear
the parable is glorious news about God's love for us all,
Indeed it is a source of hope and strength for everyone who is called to
labour in God's field rather than left to perish in the marketplace with
those who have not been chosen.
May our prayer to God be this:
O thou who hast given so much to me,
give me one thing more,
a grateful heart,
and help me Lord to remember that
while it is possible to give without loving,
it is impossible to love without giving. AMEN
copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 2002 - 2005
please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.