Pastor Steve Mechem
Matthew 20:8-16 New Revised Standard Version
When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers 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.”
A little set-up. You all are the Workers Complaint Committee - a citizens' group that comes together to resolve conflict between employers and employees. Please listen carefully to the following testimony.
[Put on Jacket]
I am so angry. You can probably see smoke coming from my ears. It is so unfair and I deserve better.
That’s why I am here today- to tell you my story and urge you to side with me so that I get what I deserve.
I am farm hand. I work over at the Big Farm. I have been a farm hand a long time and I am good at want I do.
I arrive on time, I do my work, and I don’t quit until quitting time.
If my foreperson asks me to dig ditches,
I dig ditches.
If my foreperson asks me to dig up weeds,
I dig up weeds.
If my foreperson asks me to haul water,
I haul water.
If my foreperson needs me to work through a break,
I will work through a break.
12 hours days are long. As the closing bell tolls,
My back aches,
My body hurts.
But if I am supposed to work 12 hours I work every bit of it. And am proud of my day’s wage- I have earned it.
Imagine what I felt like on the day in question. I arrived at 6:00 in the morning and set to work. It was an especially hot day and I worked all day, with a couple of water breaks and a lunch break.
Throughout the day, new workers were arriving at the farm and were put to work. I saw them, and realizing the amount of work that needed to be done, didn’t think much about it.
I was a bit surprised, when a new worker arrived at 5p.m., an hour before quitting time. I will give him credit, he worked hard for that hour, but by 5:00 p.m.,
the sun was low in the sky,
the afternoon heat had broken,
the evening breeze was refreshing.
Yeah, he probably accomplished more in that one hour than I did, but I had been working hard for 11 hours, giving my all.
The bell at the farm house rang signaling the end of the day and we all moved toward the sound to get our daily pay.
As we arrived, the pay steward of the farm told us all to line up in the order we were hired, the people who had worked the shortest were first in line and those of us who had worked the longest were at the back of the line.
That ticked me off, having to wait after working all day. But I assumed that they were giving those late hirelings so little pay that they wanted to dispose of them before they got to us big money earners.
I watched from the back of the line and was shocked to see that the person who starting working an hour before quitting time was handed six $20 bills - $120.
Wait. I work for $10 an hour and worked 12 hours today. Therefore, I was expecting $120 for the day. But if this latecomer, very latecomer, gets $120, then I should expect an incredible pay day. Doing the math in my head, I thought I might get as much as $1,440.
I continued to watch as people were getting paid.
Each one was getting $120. People who came to work at 3:00 were getting the same as the guy who came at 5:00 and the people who came at noon and the people who came at 9:00 a.m.
I heard some grumbling from some of them about the latecomers who didn’t work as long or as hard getting paid the same amount.
It was puzzling to say the least. But I held on to the thought that as a person who showed up at 6:00 a.m. and worked throughout the entire day, my pay would have to be higher than that guy- the guy who arrived at 5:00 p.m. and was now counting his money with a big o smile on his ugly o face, (uh, excuse me).
I came to stand at the table of the pay steward. She handed me my pay envelope. It listed that I was to be paid $10 for 12 hours- $120.
I opened the envelope assuming that I would be counting much more than 6 $20 bills. But to my utter chagrin, there was only $120 in the envelope.
I could feel the anger building up through my body. My face felt flushed. I shook with fury. I looked up at pay steward who said to me, “thank you for your hard work today. Have a great day.”
I could only walk away. I wanted to hit something. I needed to scream. I fell in with the group of people who were there at 6:00 a.m. and everybody was fuming.
That is why I am here today filing this complaint before you, the workers complaint committee.
I did exactly what I was supposed to do. I went above and beyond. I deserve what I deserve and that is a “whole heck of a lot more” than that guy.
I will leave it in your hands.
(show of hands, who is with me?)
[Put on vest]
Hello, I am the owner of the big farm. Thank you for allowing me to speak to you this evening.
I am here to defend myself for paying everybody the same amount at the end of the day.
First, you should know, that we often add workers during the day to ensure everything that needs to get done gets done.
Secondly, we believe that those men and women who are hired later in the day play just as significant role getting it all done as those hired earlier.
Third, I am not cheating anybody here. I have paid people exactly what I said I would pay them. I never told them that they would make more than anybody else. I am not hurting anybody by my actions. I am simply including everybody in the daily wage.
Fourth, I am the owner of the farm and I can run my farm any way I choose. The accusation is made that we are unfair. We don't pretend to be fair by other people’s standards. We strive to be more than fair, we strive to include everybody in the daily wage.
(ok, who is buying the farmer’s response)
Hi, I am that guy.
I need work. I have not been able to find lasting employment in months. Every day, I get to the day laborers recruiting center and every day I wait for someone to hire me.
I always accept the wage I am given.
I must express overwhelming gratitude to the owner of the big farm who, through his graciousness and kindness, has seen fit to include me in his generosity.
On the day in question, I had to take my daughter to the emergency room and was therefore too late to the laborer’s recruiting center to be hired early in the day. My daughter is doing okay, thank you for asking, but losing a day’s wage on top of the emergency room bill threatened to break me.
When the owner of the farm saw me late in the day at the Laborers recruiting center and offered me a short day of work, I was so thankful.
And then, when I got paid a full day’s wage for one hour of work, I was completely flabbergasted. I felt truly blessed and accepted in that moment. I will never be able to thank the farmer enough and will willingly work for the farm every day of my life.
For those who are angry that I am accepted as a full wage earner, I am sorry that you are angry at me or the farmer. But I have been given a break, I have been blessed by grace, I will forever be thankful for being included.
The story’s spiritual point, if not abundantly clear-
Grace ain’t fair, but it is incredible.
To long time religious folks- quit with the judgement, and the hate, and embrace the reality that God loves and accepts people who are not like you and who don’t do religion as well as you do or as long as you have. It is your privilege to participate in God’s love and grace, to step back as others are being embraced. Grace ain’t fair, deal with it.
To those who are that guy- rejoice in the presence of the One who has loved you and cared about you and accepted you into the fold. Grace ain’t fair, embrace it.
To all of us- today is another day to work, to serve, to embrace others, to join God in the process of Kingdom building. Grace ain’t fair, thank God.