8 The Kingdom of Heaven is Like a Landowner

August 29, 2010

The story is told that a man once encountered Abraham Lincoln walking down the street with his two young sons and both boys were howling. “What’s wrong with the boys Abe?” the man asked. “What’s wrong with the boys is what’s wrong with the world” Lincoln responded “I have three chestnuts and they both want two.”
Actually I think the president was wrong, I don’t think the main consideration for Tad and Willie was that they wanted more than their brother I think what they were more concerned about was whether or not their brother would have more than them.
It is one of the most common and least enviable traits that people exhibit. The fear that someone else is going to get something that you didn’t get. It’s really hard.
And it’s not the big difference, I really couldn’t care less that someone got a great deal on Rolls Royce, but if I bought a new Corolla and found out that you got yours for a thousand dollars less it would be tough for me to celebrate with you. Does that make me a bad person?
And if it was limited to material things it wouldn’t be so bad, but I think deep in the dark place that hides inside of all of us we might be able to agree with Gore Vidal who wrote “”whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies.
So here we are, week nine into our series “The Kingdom of Heaven is Like. . .” Way back in June we started looking at the parables that Jesus began with those words. Parables were one of the teaching methods that Jesus used in his preaching. Not the only method but perhaps his favourite method. Parables are short stories that contain a moral, kind of like a fable but different. And some of them are fairly clear and some are a little less clear.
And so as Jesus taught his apostle what they could expect the Kingdom of Heaven to be like he used the everyday to illustrate the eternal, the secular to reveal the sacred.
“Look my kingdom will be like, a man working in a field, a fishing net being thrown into the sea, a mustard seed taking root on the side of the road, a wheat field or bread rising in a kitchen” Everyday things in their world that they would be familiar with . And so we began our series not with one of Jesus’ parables but instead with the statement “The Kingdom of Heaven is like an Inukshuk” Because really isn’t that the type of thing that Jesus would have used if he had of been teaching in Northern Canada instead of Palestine.
If Jesus had of been teaching the Inuit people in their language, which is Inuktitut, he wouldn’t have used wheat fields and vineyards as illustrations, instead he would have looked around the barren northern landscape and part of what he would have seen are the stone sententials that are so familiar in that area. And he would have said “The Kingdom of heaven is like an Inukshuk.”

 And if you’ve been here for some of the messages or perhaps you just really knowledgeable about inukshuks then you know that in Inuktitut Inukshuk means “likeness of a person” or in the larger definition “something which acts for or performs the function of a person.” Inuk meaning person and shuk meaning similar. And the Northern People saw the inukshuk as an integral part of their world, just as Christ followers, living out the commands of Christ should be an integral part of the world today.

 And in the same way that the inukshuk provided landmarks in a landscape that had very few natural landmarks we are to provide moral landmarks. And just as the inukshuk pointed the Inuit in the right direction as they travelled we are to provide a moral compass for our world, and just as the inukshuk was used sometime to warn people of potential danger the church is to warn people of the consequences of sin and of the horror of an eternity without God and his love.

 But Jesus was not teaching in Nunavut on this day, instead we are told that his travels had taken him east of the Jordan river and it was there as he taught that he told the story of the Landowner and the Vineyard. Matthew 20:1-2 “For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay the normal daily wage and sent them out to work.
You know at least part of the story because Karen read it earlier, it was time for the harvest and so the man went out to hire people to pick his grapes. I love grapes don’t know if I would be the best person to send out to pick them. But the story tells us that the man went to the marketplace very early in the morning, in the original language we are told that is was at six a.m., and yes as surprising as it seems there are two six o’clocks in the day. And we are told that that work day would have continued until the next six o’clock, apparently back then you only had to work for a half day and it didn’t matter which 12 hours it was.
Culturally we are told that this would be a very common scene two thousand years ago as day workers gathered in the central square of a town or village looking for work, as a matter of fact it is a sight that is still seen in third world countries around the world. And we are told that these men wouldn’t have had much going for them, they survived by gosh and by golly. They had no permanent work and if they didn’t find work than at the end of the day they would have no pay, kind of like an ancient temp agency.
And the men who were hired were promised a denarius, which was a Greek coin, now we could get into how much a denarius represented two thousand years ago and what it would be worth in today’s money but that is irrelevant, what is relevant is that we are told that two thousand years ago it represented a day’s wage. And so they were promised a day’s pay for a day’s work, and not one of them would complain about that.

And the story continues, perhaps the landowner underestimated how many grapes had to be picked or overestimated how many grapes the men could pick but we are told that at 9 a.m. he returned to the market place and hired more men, and again at noon time and 3 in the afternoon.
From the story we are told that when he hired the first men he agreed to pay them a denarius, a day’s wage. But as he hired the subsequent men he told them Matthew 20:4 So he hired them, telling them he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day.
And the story as you know if from our earlier reading ended with verses 6 & 7 Matthew 20:6-7 “At five o’clock that afternoon he was in town again and saw some more people standing around. He asked them, ‘Why haven’t you been working today?’ “They replied, ‘Because no one hired us.’ “The landowner told them, ‘Then go out and join the others in my vineyard.’
And we can understand that, it makes sense. And we would assume as did those who were hired that if those who were hired at 6 a.m. and worked the full day received a full day’s wage then those who were hired later in the day and worked less would receive less pay and that would be fair and just. And at the end of the day everyone would got home happy, or at least their expectations would have been met.
But had we continued with the reading we would have seen the story get interesting. Let’s pick the story up where we left off. Matthew 20:8-10 “That evening he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first. When those hired at five o’clock were paid, each received a full day’s wage. When those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage.”
And they were a little cranky. Now I know that we are all getting up on our spiritual high horse and silently protesting that we wouldn’t have been like that, that we would have been glad that they received as much as we did even though some of them only worked an hour. Oh stop it, hypocrisy doesn’t look good on you, you know very well that you would have been just as cranky as they were.
On January 24th 1989 Ted Bundy was executed after confessing to the murder of 30 people, media outlets all over the US requested interviews with Bundy that he turned down, but on the day before he was to be executed he requested an interview with Dr. James Dobson from Focus on the Family.
Bundy felt that there was a very real correlation between the escalation use of pornography in his life from the time he was a young teen and what he had ended up doing and he wanted to warn people about that. If you watch the interviews you come away knowing why they referred to him as the Gentlemen Killer.
But that is not what we are here to talk about here today. In a later interview, with Dobson not Bundy, Bundy was dead by then, James Dobson talked about how he felt that Ted Bundy had been truly remorseful about what he had done and in those final hours had asked Christ’s forgiveness and turned his life over to Jesus.
How does that make you feel? That Ted Bundy, a self-confessed killer, in the last hours of his life could have a death bed conversion? When you get to heaven he could be your neighbour. Bet that knocked you off your high horse.
This parable is abstract until it become personal. I wonder how the Christ followers who were gathered around at the foot of the cross felt when the thief next to Jesus said in
Luke 23:42-43 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
I wonder if there were those who thought “Wait just a minute, we’ve spent the last three years following Jesus and obeying his commandment, how does this reprobate warrant a free pass?” and I wonder if anyone there connected the dots back to this story?
There are a couple of different views of what Jesus was trying to illustrate with this parable. There are some who tell us that it is about God’s covenant first with the Jews and then with the Gentiles. Matthew Henry writes “The direct object of this parable seems to be, to show that though the Jews were first called into the vineyard, at length the gospel should be preached to the Gentiles, and they should be admitted to equal privileges and advantages with the Jews.”

Guess that never dawned on me, but it certainly makes sense. The Jews having had a relationship with God since the promises made to Abraham and now the invitation being extended to the Gentiles as well. I can see that.
There are others who see the parable as a synopsis of how the Gospel began to spread, that those who were hired at 6:00 a.m. were the apostles, and then those at 9 a.m. were those converted at Pentecost and so on and so forth right up to those who will come to know Christ during the Great Tribulation. Guess that never dawned on me either, but that certainly makes sense.
Guess I am just a simple kind of guy because I always looked at this story as an illustration about where each of us personally met Jesus on our life’s journey. I have friends and family members who tell me that they made that decision to follow Christ as very young children. My daughter Deborah falls into that category. There were very aware of what Jesus was offering and took advantage of it.
Have read their bible almost since they were able to read, said goodnight to God just as naturally as they said good night to their parents or siblings and greeted him the same way in the morning, never wandered and never strayed. In the vernacular of the business world they were early adopters. And there is a lot to be said about people like that, and they will never have to carry the luggage that some of us carry because of some of our behaviour and choices that were made before we met Jesus.
And then there are those who made that decision as teens, or as young adults. If you fall into that category than you are the 9 a.m. people. I was 19 when I made the choice to become a Christ follower, and it seemed that I had lived my entire life without God, and I had. For others of you that decision was made in your twenties or thirties, would that be around noon time? And then there are some here who came to know Jesus at three o’clock.
So what do we learn from this story?
Matthew 20:8-12 “That evening he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first. When those hired at five o’clock were paid, each received a full day’s wage. When those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage. When they received their pay, they protested to the owner, ‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’
For Some It was a Story of Greed. I really wasn’t sure what to call this first point, in one sense it was greed but not a normal type of greed, it was a nefarious type of greed. Because it wasn’t so much that they wanted more, they had in fact received what was fair, even they would agree to that. It wasn’t so much that they wanted more, they wanted the others to receive less.
I’m sure you remember the 10 Commandments, you can probably get most of them down pat, Don’t cuss, don’t have other gods, don’t build idols, remember the Sabbath, honour your parents, don’t kill, don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t commit adultery. But do you remember the last one the one that sees so innocent compared to killing, lying, cheating and stealing.
Kind of like the Sunday School class that was studying the Ten Commandments. The teacher asked if anyone could tell her what the last commandment was and a little girl raised her hand, stood tall, and quoted, “Thou shall not take the covers off the neighbours’ wife.” Which is close it is actually Exodus 20:17 “You must not covet your neighbour’s house. You must not covet your neighbour’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbour.”
And that commandment is there because God knew that would be the root that would eventually lead to murder, theft and adultery. Covetness is not simply wanting something like someone else has, it is wanting what they have or if that can’t happen than it’s wanting them not to have it.
That’s why way back in Genesis Cain killed Abel, because Abel had what Cain wanted, God’s blessing and if he couldn’t have it than Abel wouldn’t have it either.
It is why David committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband.
It’s why the civil war began in Sierra Leone, the rebels never believed that they would be able to have all that the rich folks had, (and rich folks being defined as anyone who had more than them) they just didn’t want them to have it.
Earlier in the month there were protests in Dartmouth because some people were getting t take a short cut around a detour and others had to drive the long way around. And it was settled when the city locked the gate to the shortcut and nobody could take it. And the protesters were happy with the outcome because now somebody wasn’t getting a break that they weren’t.
And that is the reality of life, God offers you the free gift of eternal life and the reason the devil will do anything to keep you from accepting that offer is he is afraid you are going to get what he has already lost.
Matthew 20:13-15 “He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? Take your money and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?’ But the main lesson here is that For All It was a Story of Grace In each case the worker was hired by the grace of the landowner. The Landowner had no obligation to hire any one specific worker. There was no seniority list, there was no contract, there was no union telling him who he had to hire. When he went into the village he could have offered his position to anyone but he offered it to them.
As far as we can tell he didn’t offer them work because of how many grapes they could pick or how few grapes they would eat, it was not based on education or experience it was an open invitation.
Those who were hired at six in the morning were no more qualified than those who were hired at five in the afternoon. And each one of those people who were offered employment in the vineyard had the same option, they could choice to work for the landowner or they could choice not to it was their decision.
Justice would be that the fewer hours a man worked the less he should have been paid, because justice is getting what you deserve, so eternal justice for us would be an eternity without God. That’s what we are told in God’s word in Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the story doesn’t end there it continues to say but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.
In our Christian experience we are each offered the opportunity to serve Christ, not because of who we are or what we have done but because God in his grace has extended that offer. In Revelation 22:17 Christ extends the invitation Revelation 22:17 . . . Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life. In the KJV it says it this way Revelation 22:17 . . . And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely. I love that word, whosoever. The invitation is open to all to drink from the spring of life, not because of who we are but because of who he is, not because of what we’ve done but because of what he has done John 3:16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. The offer is extended to the world, to whosoever will and everyone has the same option. We can choose to accept the offer or we can choose to not accept the offer but it is our choice.
But understand it doesn’t matter when the offer is made it is an offer of Grace, Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:8-9 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. We can’t earn our salvation, no matter how long we serve God.
A couple of quick closing thoughts.
Matthew 20:6-7 “At five o’clock that afternoon he was in town again and saw some more people standing around. He asked them, ‘Why haven’t you been working today?’ “They replied, ‘Because no one hired us.’ “The landowner told them, ‘Then go out and join the others in my vineyard.’
It was a Story with a Warning
This is not a game. If you are sitting there thinking “well I’ll just wait until the last shift and enjoy all the world has to offer before I make a decision to follow Christ.”
Remember, the ones who had been hired at five o’clock had not been offered the position earlier in the day and turned it down. It doesn’t spell it out but I think that it would have been unlikely if at 6, 9, 12 and 3 they had turned the landowner down if they would have been given the opportunity at 5. Someone once said “A deathbed profession is burning the candle of your light for the devil and then blowing the smoke in the face of God.” Another person said “Many a man who was planning on coming to God at the eleventh hour died at 10:45.”
The word of God tells us in 2 Corinthians 6:2 For God says, “At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you.” Indeed, the “right time” is now. Today is the day of salvation. Not next year or next month or even next week, today is the day of salvation.
And finally this entire story would have been for naught if all the workers had of embraced the truth of Romans 12:15 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.
It’s easy to do the second part, to weep with those who weep, but how good are you at rejoicing with those who rejoice?
So where are you at this morning?