Reflection for the fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

Reading: Matthew 20: 1-16

‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the labourers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the market-place; and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And 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?” They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.”

When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the labourers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.” When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, “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.” But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’

Reflection

Picture the scene – at outskirts of a town, perhaps at the side of a dual carriageway, a group of men, mostly young, loiter with their hands in their pockets. Every time a van appears, they jostle for position at the edge of the road hoping to attract the driver’s attention. This is the unofficial pick-up point for employers to hire casual labourers for the day, perhaps for a farm or building site. As soon as a van pulls up, they crowd around it, the strongest and fittest battling their way to the front. The driver selects the number of men he wants, they pile into the back and head off with the promise of a day’s paid work. The others might hang around a little longer, hoping for another chance, or they skulk off desponded. If nothing turns up, they will have no money to provide for their families.

Such scenes are a common occurrence all around the world. It is a precarious life when the only hope of paid work is casual, seasonal day labour. In the parable told by Our Lord, the scene was very similar as men stood in the market place from very early morning. However, there are some significant, extraordinary features in the story which are noteworthy.

Some of the workers were lucky, being hired for a full day’s work. The rest waited hopefully, and some of those were hired later at 9am. Then the vineyard owner returned at noon, then at 3pm and again when only an hour’s work remained to be done. Was this owner so disorganised that he misjudged the quantity of work required in his vineyard and the number of worker’s needed to complete it? From the conclusion of the story, that is clearly not the case. In fact, he seemed very clear in his intentions towards his workforce.

There is also the strange fact that some of them actually waited in the market place and stayed for 11 hours before they were eventually hired. Why didn’t they just go home? They hardly expected that there would still be a chance of being hired so late in the day. Were they too humiliated to face returning home empty-handed again? Most likely, they were the least fit or able of the group.

In the telling of this unusual parable, the unexpected generosity of the vineyard owner is very clearly emphasised. It seems that he was more concerned with the plight of unemployed people than he was for his own gain. By returning again and again it looks as though he was concerned that there were so many looking for work. At 9am, he came back to see if any of them had been hired elsewhere. When he discovered they had not, he took on more. Still concerned he kept checking and seeing they were still standing there, he took them on even when it was hardly viable.

If he displayed generosity by hiring more people than he needed, he went above and beyond generous when it came to paying their wages and they all received a full day’s pay, regardless of the time served. His lavish generosity was in recognition of the workers’ need for wages rather than getting value for his money. He could have just given them money, but in hiring them to work, he gave them a sense of self-worth and dignity that others denied them.

“The Kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard”. In telling this parable, Jesus illustrated the abundant generosity and undeserved grace of God, who is all loving, all compassionate and who cares for the “least of these”, the ones on the margin, rejected by the world.

However, there is more to this story. Like the jealous older brother in the parable of the prodigal son, the workers who received the same pay, having worked a full day in the heat of the sun grumbled at what they perceived to be unfair. This was intentional. Note the reversal of order in which they were paid. Instead of paying in the order first in, first out, the owner paid the last in before the others so that they would be aware that he had done so. Had he paid the others first, they would have been none the wiser and would not have argued. The owner asked: “Are you envious because I am generous?” Jesus added: “So the last will be first, and the first will be last”.

Our Lord ended the story in such a way as an invitation for us to think and reflect, and to make the worldview of this parable our own. In the Kingdom of heaven, the poor, the marginalised and the rejected are valued and treated with dignity, and receive abundant generosity.’ Amen.

Collect for fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

God, who in generous mercy sent the Holy Spirit upon your Church in the burning fire of your love: Grant that your people may be fervent in the fellowship of the gospel; that, always abiding in you, they may be found steadfast in faith and active in service; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Prayers of intercession

For the mercy and justice of the Kingdom, let us pray to the Lord.

God our Father, give to all Christian people the grace to be faithful labourers in your service, desiring no reward but the knowledge of doing your will. Bless this diocese, our parish and Pat, our bishop. May your church be open and welcoming, where all people are valued equally. Help us to uphold the values of your kingdom at all times.

Lord hear us: Lord graciously hear us.

We pray for all who are called to ministry in your church. We ask your blessing on those who will be ordained deacon in Kildare today – Alan Melbourne, Alan Robinson, James Reid and Yvonne Hutchinson. We pray also for our Diocesan Youth officer, Luke Hawkins, as he begins his work. Strengthen and equip them to fulfil their calling.

Lord hear us: Lord graciously hear us.

We pray for justice wherever people deal with one another as employers and employees. We pray for all who are exploited in the workplace, those who are denied fair treatment, and those who feel under-valued. We pray for victims of trafficking, migrant workers who are denied their rights, and those who lack job security. Strengthen all who work to improve working conditions for others.

Lord hear us: Lord graciously hear us.

We pray for our country and government as they make and implement public health policy. We pray for a spirit of cooperation, that people will support measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We pray for our health service and hospitals and for all who work to bring help and healing to the sick. We pray for all who are engaged in medical research and trials who are working to find an effective treatment for the virus.

Lord hear us: Lord graciously hear us.

We pray for our homes and families. We remember all who are anxious about the health of and loved ones. We pray for all whose livelihoods are affected by the current pandemic. Renew their faith and grant them peace of mind. We pray for all who are sick, at home or in hospital. We remember all who are undergoing treatment, and those recovering from surgery. Grant them your strength and healing.

Lord hear us: Lord graciously hear us.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
and the love of God
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit
be with us all evermore. Amen.

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