In this parable, a landowner is hiring people to work his land. He hires people early in the morning with the promise of paying them a fair wage. He hired more workers at noon, at 3:00, and again at 5:00. From what we can gather at then end of the story, closing time is 6:00. When the closing bell rings, the landowner starts paying out wages for the day. The first to get paid are the last people that were hired. They are paid the same wage that was promised to all of the workers hired before them. Needless to say, some grumbling begins. The workers who were hired first want to get paid more, obviously, since they worked longer. But the landowner makes a great point…you agreed to this salary, and so did the last people hired. You can’t complain about what you agreed to be paid.
I was just reading an article published in the Huffington Post about this parable that got me thinking a bit more about this parable. I’ve never really thought about this part before, but what of the people hired later in the day? The fact that they couldn’t find work until almost the end of the work day would lead one to believe that they weren’t the most skilled workers. They couldn’t find work anywhere else. They may have been “weak, infirmed, disabled…maybe elderly…possibly criminals or anyone with a bad reputation.” They would have been the unwanted. But, as Jesus closes in his explanation of the parable, the last will be first, and the first will be last.
These words still apply amazingly even in 2019. As I’ve been reflecting so much on all that has been going on politically/socially in our country as of late, I keep coming back to the thought of “what would Jesus say or do” if He were physically walking around America today. People tend to make stabs at people’s character and actions while hiding behind their Christianity. When I think about it, though, Jesus didn’t spend his time hanging out with the righteous people of the day, giving them props for how great of a job they were doing at being righteous. He spent almost all of his time with those who were considered to be outcasts, downtrodden, the last in line. And what was his regular message to them? They will receive the same reward in heaven as those who have been religiously following The Law.
And the same will be true for anyone who comes to Him, no matter how late in the game they get there. And I’m pretty sure that it isn’t up to any single one of us to place judgment on people who seem so far from being “righteous” or “saved.” Instead, it is on us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Who is our neighbor? Anyone we come across in need. I know I keep coming back to this hymn over and over again, but its message is something that I think is important to keep striving to achieve. “They will know we are Christians by our love.” Not by how many times we attend Sunday worship, or how often we pray, or any of that. And I’m not sure how we can say we are a nation of Christians while turning our backs on everyone that we see as not living “in a Christian way,” or, if you ask me even worse, turning our backs on people wanting to come here to live the American Dream just like all of our ancestors did, however long ago that was for any of you reading this today.