These last have worked a single hour, and thou hast put them on a level with us, who have borne the burden of the day’s heat
When my little sister Carol was young, she used to read a magazine called Children’s Highlights. Every issue contained a clever drawing entitled “What’s Wrong with this Picture?” and what Carol had to do was discover all the drawing’s oddities and absurdities. There might, for example, be a woman wearing a shoe on one ear, or a fish swimming among the clouds, or a dog wearing a wristwatch. Not only was the fault-finding a lot of fun, but I think this was the magazine’s ingenious way of re-enforcing truth. Discovering what was wrong emphasized what was right. A shoe is not worn on an ear but on a foot. Fish do not swim in the sky but in the water. Dogs do not wear wristwatches. People do.
I believe this is precisely what is happening in Jesus’ parable about the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). In the past, every time I’d pondered this passage, I was struck by the obvious and inescapable objection that the landowner is unfair. Why should those who worked only one hour in the vineyard be paid as much as those who worked a whole day? Then, all of a sudden, it hit me. Something is wrong with this picture!
If Our Lord’s parable of the laborers in the vineyard is about salvation, then it is wrong in at least one key respect. We Christians are not competing against each other to see who can earn the most. We are fighting alongside one another against a common enemy, namely the devil. This means that, whenever one of us benefits, we all benefit. Envy, the tendency to be saddened by another’s good, makes absolutely no sense in the Body of Christ. Here I cannot help but think of football. Suppose Johnny, a junior varsity running back, is sitting on the bench for more than three quarters of the game. At the last moment, with only seconds on the clock, the coach throws him in. The players are victorious. The opposing team is trounced. Is anyone on the winning side going to say to the former bench warmer: “Hey, Johnny Come-Lately, you haven’t played the whole game. You don’t deserve to share in the celebration”? No way! The victory belongs equally to everyone on the team, no matter how much or how little he has played!
The parable of the vineyard is like the crazy pictures in Children’s Highlights. Its major flaw serves only to underscore the truth. We Christians are not competing against one another for an employer’s wage. No! We are fighting beside one another to win glory for Christ. It is not so much as if we are working in an earthly vineyard. In some ways, the Christian life is a lot more like football!