On Sunday, we will hear the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). You remember the story: a man hires workers at different hours throughout the day but pays them all a full day’s wage—even those who only worked an hour. Jesus tells the story from the perspective of those who worked the whole day. Presumably, that’s because they take our place in the story. We are the ones who were invited first yet were paid the same as those who came in at the last minute. Their grumbling and complaining—“you have made them equal to us”—is our grip at God.
But what about the others? What about the ones who only worked one hour? How did they feel?
Were they surprised to be paid a full day’s wage? In the parable, the owner promises to pay them “whatever is right.” How did it feel to receive the whole amount? Were they startled? Did their eyes light up and their face show an uncontrollable grin?
Were they embarrassed to be paid so much? They only worked an hour. They hardly did anything. Did they blush with discomfort at being rewarded so handsomely? Did they feel as if they were cheating the system?
Where they ashamed to be paid as much as those who had worked all day? Did they run away quickly so that their angry counterparts wouldn’t have a chance to take their frustration out on them? Did they feel the urge to apologize or even share some of their compensation with those who felt shorted?
Were they confused by their compensation? Did they wonder what the motive behind the payment was? Did they struggle to make sense of the owner’s logic? Did they somehow feel like they were being used in a strange power struggle?
Did they feel undervalued? Since the owner paid everyone the same amount seemingly with no regard for their labor, did they ironically sense that they did not matter as individuals? Was their plight—their standing around idle all day because no one had called them—subsumed by the owner’s magnanimity?
Usually we hear this parable and we think of ourselves as those who grumble about deserving more. And there’s definitely a sermon to be preached on our sense of entitlement. But today I’m curious about those other workers—the ones we forget about. Maybe some of us feel closer to them. Maybe we’re confused or embarrassed at being given what we do not deserve. What about them? What do they teach us?