The parable that Jesus tells today, from the beginning of Matthew 20, about a landowner hiring workers for his vineyard throughout the day – some who begin work at 6am and work for 12 hours for the agreed standard wage, and then various other groups who are employed at 9am, 12pm, 3pm and 5pm – is probably not your favourite – nor even in the top ten of the 40 parables that Jesus told. Many people find this parable annoying and unfair – particularly people who have been actively involved in the church for a long time!

Strangely, when it comes time to make payment, the owner calls the latest arrivals first and begins by paying them the standard rate – not for an hour’s work, but for 12 hours work. Of course, those who had worked longer therefore expected that they would receive a more generous rate of pay – instead they only get what they agreed to in the first place. No matter how much the owner protests that he is not being unfair – he is paying what they had agreed to work for – the parable goes against our deeply ingrained sense of fairness and justice – a sense that even the youngest of children are able to know. To demonstrate this, just try setting unequal portions of icecream before a group of children, or cakes that are different sizes!
So how do we make sense of this parable?

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Recorded at SJV, 8.30am (9’29”)