The gospel reading for this Sunday in the Book of Common Prayer is the Parable of the Day Laborers. A man hires workers for a vineyard at various points throughout the day. He agrees on a wage with each before they work, the same wage.
At the end of the day, there are some who have only worked since late in the day, but they are given the same as those who have worked all day. Those who worked since the morning cry foul.
This is a parable that seems very unfair to Western sensibilities. We believe that a person should be paid according to the amount of work they do. In the parable, those who worked all day are paid according to the amount of work they do, but the landowner gives the other workers more than they have worked for. In short, this is a parable about God's mercy.
It is actually not too different from the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The older brother in that story is upset because the prodigal son is getting much more than he deserves. In terms of Jesus' ministry, the Pharisees might have leveled this charge at Jesus for proclaiming God's forgiveness of toll collectors and prostitutes. The Pharisees had actually been following the Law for a long time. And now the wicked of Israel could just repent and join God's blessing on an equal footing with all those who had been striving hard for God's favor all this time?
These parables are all good news to the sinner. Indeed, according to Paul, the metaphor of working for our reward from God ultimately breaks down. We are all laborers who join in the work well late in the day. God has not been "fair" or "just" with us but has shown us great mercy in the pay He will give us on the Day of Salvation.
What is surprising is how prevalent it is that the human animal begrudges God's mercy and blessing to others. It is not enough for us to enjoy God's grace--we want it more than others. If we are not enjoying the prosperity of God's grace, we don't want anyone else to.
The Parable of the Day Laborers is comparatively kind to these "elder brothers" among us. But a quick look at Matthew 23:33 should sober us lest we suddenly realize that we have stopped working and may not even get our wage!
Collect of the Day
Grant us, Lord, not to mind earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to cleave to those that will abide; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.