Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving & the Jesus Hermeneutic

Taking a slight diversion for the holiday season, consider the following parable:

"For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. "When he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. "And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the market place; and to those he said, 'You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.' And {so} they went. "Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did the same thing. "And about the eleventh {hour} he went out and found others standing {around;} and he *said to them, 'Why have you been standing here idle all day long?' "They *said to him, 'Because no one hired us.' He *said to them, 'You go into the vineyard too.' "When evening came, the owner of the vineyard *said to his foreman, 'Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last {group} to the first.' "When those {hired} about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius. "When those {hired} first came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. "When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, saying, 'These last men have worked {only} one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.' "But he answered and said to one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? 'Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. 'Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?' "So the last shall be first, and the first last."--Matthew 20:1-16
Details to note:

Laborers = Gospel Work--The two other passages where Matthew uses "laborers."
Then He said to His disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. "Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest."--Matthew 9:37-38

These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them: "Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. "And as you go, preach, saying, `The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give. "Do not acquire gold, or silver, or copper for your money belts, or a bag for your journey, or even two coats, or sandals, or a staff; for the worker is worthy of his support.--Matthew 10:5-10
These two usages of "laborer" coupled with the immediately preceding context (Peter asking what reward he will receive for his devotion to ministry) suggests that the laborers in this parable resemble those who are doing the work of proclaiming the gospel.

All received an equal wage--While this point seems very obvious as we consider the workers from the third hour to the eleventh, it is important to remember the original workers were also paid. This parable does not end with weeping and gnashing of teeth or strict judgment. The landowner does not require their wage back from them. In the same way, those who choose not to celebrate the gospel daily or seek Christ for the joy as well as their salvation are not necessarily unsaved, they simply miss a great joy from ministry. Jesus even calls the grumbling worker "Friend," showing His grace and love.

Settled on a price--With the first group, the landowner "agreed with the laborers for a denarius for the day." This says more about the attitude of the workers than it does the landowner. Ultimately, these men are standing in the square looking for work. The landowner knows what he's willing to pay for a day. He is the one who is truly in control. If he doesn't like what the workers are demanding, he could simply walk away. The landowner will not leave this negotiation paying more than he was willing, but the workers may have to receive less than they hoped. Nevertheless the workers believe they have agreed upon the price.

No negotiation from others--Just three hours later, the landowner simply says, "Whatever is right, I will give you." However, that was enough for the workers. Such "idle standing" doesn't pay the bills or feed the family. Once the landowner appears, the workers are quick to follow, simply with the promise that he would treat them right. He does the same for those waiting six and nine hours. Finally, there is a group who have waited all day and been looked over. With this group, the landowner does not even speak of payment, but tells them to get out into his field. Clearly, they trust that he will do something, for the immediately go into the field and begin working. Whether the humbling result of being looked over in the first hour, or the desperation of needing some sort of wage, these workers are in not position to negotiate. They are offered an opportunity and jumped at it.

Generosity yields jealousy?--Ironically, those who negotiated their price are the ones who are disappointed. The landowner gives them exactly what they asked for. However, the problem is revealed by the landowner's generosity. Their wage is not what bothers them, it is what he dares to give the other workers that gets them upset. The landowner appears to be aware of their attitude, for he tells the foreman to pay the workers in reverse. He wants the first hour workers to see him generously pay the eleventh hour workers.

Nearly 2000 years later, and it's still easy to find the same responses. I've spoken with many pastors who believe God is giving them a raw deal with the sheep they have. They are sure they deserve better and are going to tell God all about it. Laymen have expressed their doubt that God loves them because their career or health is failing. Members of churches complaining about disciplines they should apply. We can all be tempted to think we've made a deal with God, then get upset when it seems someone else got a better deal.
For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?--1 Corinthians 4:7

This Thanksgiving season, take an opportunity to remember that you did not negotiate with God. You were in no position of power or rank with God. He needed nothing from you. You were standing there idly and He called you to His field and agreed to treat you better than you deserve. We should not see injustice when we see the Lord treat someone else well, but it should serve as a reminder to us that nothing we have received has been earned by us.

Quite frankly, I don't know of anyway to establish this kind of gratitude in your life than to read the Scriptures with the desire to engage Christ. Self serving moralistic application will either leave you feeling like a failure or result in apparent success and an attitude of entitlement. Simply reading the Word as historical narratives will leave one feeling disconnected, either looking down on former generations or envying the form of revelation they received. However, an attitude that goes to Scripture to see the story of redemption played out with Jesus Christ as our Divine Rescuer...not that creates a true heart of gratitude. A heart that not only thanks God daily for the salvation He has provided for us, but also is thrilled to see Him continually saving sinners.

And for those of us who have embraced this perspective. We should also turn all praise and glory to Jesus Christ for revealing this beauty to us. We did not discover it, but rather, He made it known to us.

Happy (is the man who's life is filled with) Thanksgiving!


Brad said...

I'm thankful that there are still pastors out there who know where the focus truly needs to be. God bless your labors, brother!

JanAl said...

Good post Danny! Based on my selfish/sin-full heart, any and all my negotiations are worthless. Praise God that His love, grace, and mercy covers me. Without them, I would have no hope!

Keith said...

Pastors used to be regularly admonished that after a few years of ministry the flock becomes like the shepherd. Maybe some of our complaining friends need to be reminded of this, and realize that the sheep are becoming like them, for better or worse. The problem is not in the flock, but in the mirror. We should be grateful that God would entrust to us any flock at all.