If you want to see something interesting, line up a group of people in a single file line saying “I am the front of the line, line up behind me.” Once everyone is sufficiently placed, look at them and walk to the other end of the line and lead them from there. You’ll be interested to see the frustration, especially if there was a rush to get to the front (btw you can probably witness this to a certain degree daily at the airport).
You may have guessed the theme this week is the first shall be last and the last shall be first. It is a wonderful and great reminder of the way in which God works. In the early church, as was evident from last week’s scripture, there was a problem: people felt that time in the faith, be it Judaism, or in Paul’s case just followers, that they had more of a right to the faith and salvation than others. In other words, they were more righteous than the newcomers.
They had good reason for this: they worked hard and kept faithful and felt they were owed something. Though they also felt that they were owed something more because they had been there the longest. Problem is, that for God, this is not the way to look at it.
The passage this week is one of the harshest to deal with this issue. The Parable is about the owner of a vineyard that needs to harvest his crop. He started his day “early,” most likely at day break, hiring day laborers. But throughout the day he continued to bring in more and more until he brought in the last group at the end of the day. All day, with each additional group, those who had been called early were getting excited because they thought they might be getting more than what was originally promised. But when the end of the day came, the last were paid the same as the first, which really irked the people who worked all day. But the owner reminded them that they got what was agreed to, and essentially it was none of their business if he wanted to be generous.
Honestly, I could feel the same as those who worked all day. Especially being tired and weak. But there is something missing for the workers; their complaint was about fairness in relation to themselves, their hopes, their ideas, etc; it had nothing to do with the landowner or even the other men, but that is whom they blamed.
Jesus says this is an analogy about God; it is in the same vein as the prodigal son. However, here Jesus is driving a point that when it comes to the grace of God it does not matter when you come to faith, only that you do. Moreover, that no matter what works are engaged, each soul is regarded equally. So it does not really matter who is first and who is last; in the end they are all equal.
It is like the line getting onto a plane, no matter how fast you get on, you are still going to all leave at the same time and get where you are going at the same time. With faith, we come to it at different phases of our lives and from different places, but what is important is that we come to it, we live it, and we go forth and spread it, and not the rewards or payment or anything else, but out of the Joy and celebration of being Faithful to God.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen