What Can you See?
Jesus gets under people’s skin. The mis-named story of the Labourers in the Vineyard is an example. As is the story it is part of, that of the RichYoung Man (Matthew 19.16 – 20.16).
The rich man asked Jesus about what “good” he needed to do to have eternal life. Jesus rejected the possibility – only God is good. And then Jesus listed some of the Ten Commandments. “All done!” said the man. The only lack was with the first two commandments which Jesus didn’t mention at first. But then he did. Sell your possessions – and rid yourself of the idols you are depending on. And follow me so you can serve only God.
The man goes away sad. The disciples are astonished. If the rich can’t be saved who can? No one. Impossible if left to themselves, says Jesus. But certainly possible with God.
And then Peter’s big question: We have left all for you – what is there for us? What do we get? Lots and lots Jesus says. Thrones for the apostles. And for anyone who has left all for Jesus – a hundredfold – and eternal life (the young man’s hope).
But wealth and privilege won’t count. Many who are first will be last and the last first. Here is a bookend for the next story. It is an unsettling story. We want to sympathise with the all-day workers. Their treatment is clearly not equitable. But it is fair based on the employment agreements.
What is their problem? Some translations have them envious. ESV says ‘begrudge’ (v15). The King James Version translates it more literally: “Is thine eye evil, because I am good?” – they have an evil eye, or a bad eye (see Matt 6.22,23). An ‘evil eye’ was thought to refer to envy. But in this story the feeling of the workers is more like resentment. They grumble (v11). The problem is with their eye. What they see.
What do you see when you look at this story? It is titled in our Bibles as the “Labourers in the Vineyard”. But the start of the story tells us it is about the Kingdom of Heaven- what it is like. The Kingdom is like the Master of a house. A master who is able to do what he chooses with what is his (v15), and who is good (v15). The old translation of v15 is much better here because it takes our mind back to the start of the story of the rich man. The Master is good.
We can see he is good because he goes out repeatedly to the place where workers are waiting for a job to see if any more need some work. These workers are not slacking – they have just not found a job in the daily pick up of day labourers. Could the Master’s method be rorted? Not easily if work is scarce. But if you couldn’t find work one day you would know which employer to look out for.
This one is a “large hearted man who is compassionate and full of sympathy for the poor.” (J Jeremias). He is a picture of God, of Jesus.
So the story title should be “The Good Master” or maybe “What Can You See?” This might help us answer Peter’s question: ‘What will we have?’ Will I get what I deserve? No! by God’s grace. So what can we see? What you think are your rights, or approval according to the privilege you have? Or will you see not yourself but the King; the good, compassionate, and generous King?
For us who are part of the Cathedral church a test is coming. It concerns money: for the Precinct Development and building maintenance. Some of this is not very romantic. Not much glory in church roofs. But the some of it is very strategic for the King’s Kingdom. Like the Master we too can choose what we do with what is ours. When we are called on to give what will our eye see? We could see what we will lose, like the young man. Or we could see the generous Master who gives a hundredfold to those who leave all for him. It depends on your eye.
And don’t forget the last bookend. The last first and the first last. The good master can upset us by wonderfully blessing us to our surprise.
The audio of a sermon preached on this topic at Holy Cross Cathedral Geraldton on Wednesday August 17 can be found here.