My name is Caleb. I come from a small town about 7 miles northwest of Jerusalem. It’s just a bump in the road known as Emmaus – I doubt if you’ve ever heard of the place. . .
Emmaus is in a region of my country called Judea – which is known for its hills. Some of them can be pretty barren – hence the Judean wilderness found stretching just south of the big city of Jerusalem all the way to Jericho. BUT on the hills to the west of Jerusalem, in the Jordan river valley – are found some of the best farmers in all of Israel – including several choice vineyards: it was the Napa Valley of Israel!
As you probably know, the one you call Jesus, who even in my day some were saying was the Messiah, loved to tell stories as he taught people about the kingdom of God and the qualities that God has and showers upon his people.
So, as Jesus passed through this fertile part of Judea on his way to Jerusalem – he quite naturally told stories about vineyards – something the people he was talking to could relate with. Now get ready – because for the next two Sunday’s you are going to hear stories about VINEYARDS!
Now I am what you would call a day-laborer – I think you still have such people in your time.
It means I did not have a regular job I went to everyday – like most of you have. But I was hired to do particular jobs – often times working the land, or harvesting crops, or building a barn. And once that particular job was finished – I moved on down the road, looking for the next job.
It may sound like an unsteady way to make a living – but it was quite popular in my day. Many of us did it. Because if you weren’t lucky enough to have land of your own, or weren’t trained in any particular skill, or owned your own shop or store – then chances were – you were a day-laborer.
One day the strangest thing happened to me. I was lucky enough to be hired at dawn to go work in a vineyard, agreeing to work for the usual daily wage, which by the way – was a denarius – which some would figure to be about $1.80 in your day – NOT MUCH -- but it was enough for me and people like me to live on.
Just to help with the perspective, I should point out that at least 1.4 billion people [I guess that is a pretty big number as I have never heard it before] but that many people in the world live on less than $1.43 a day in 2020!
So I was hired to work in a vineyard – and this was big vineyard, and there were lots of grapes to pick that day – so the landowner went out again at nine, again at noon, again at three --- and even again at five o’clock – practically at the end of the day – to hire workers, more workers, and even more workers.
Throughout the day he must have seen the clouds moving in and could tell a big storm was coming that night, and he did not want his grapes to get damaged. . . which would have cut into his profits.
Well, when it was finally time to quit – we all lined up for our pay – and this is where things got a bit strange. . . Because the foreman started paying those who were hired last –
and, none of us could believe this as it was happening – but those who came last, those who worked the least, those who barely worked up a sweat --- were paid what we who were hired at the beginning of the day agreed to work for: the usual daily wage: one denarius.
Well at first we were all excited – thinking if those who only worked for a couple of hours got paid as if they worked the whole day – that would certainly mean we would make out like bandits – at least four or five denari for each of us!!
But group by group, beginning with the last and ending with those of us who worked through the heat of the day – everyone got paid the same! Well that certainly wasn’t fair!!
Many of us worked hard, and we worked long hours, and we sweated a whole lot more than those hired later in the day! We were not happy to say the least – I mean we were down right peeved! And weren’t afraid to voice our disappointment.
Well it did not take too long for the land owner to put us in our place. Who were we to question his generosity?? Wasn’t he free to do as he wished with HIS money? Had he cheated any one of us – after all, he gave us what we agreed to work for –
and he was right on all accounts. So I just took my money and hit the road. While others wanted to organize a protest.
But all the way home, the landowner’s actions were churning around inside me – in my mind and most especially in my heart – as I was pondering what lesson I should learn from this.
Is it that when you are grateful – as the landowner was to get all his grapes harvested – that it leads you to be generous?? Maybe.
Is the lesson that even when someone doesn’t have the opportunity to work long and hard as I did that day – they still deserve a living wage. Could be.
Was the landowner trying to teach us that no matter how hard we try – we never outgrow the lessons of the playgrounds of our youth –
where the fastest or the biggest or the most talented are chosen first – while everyone else anxiously stands along the sidelines hoping to be invited to play?? Maybe that’s what all this first will be last and the last will be first stuff is all about. . .
Speaking of that – maybe the lesson is that it is easy to be last – that is, fall behind everyone else – when you shift your focus from just trying to do a good job to GRUMBLING about what everyone else may or may not be doing.
Or is the lesson it’s easy to get ahead, to be first, when you don’t worry so much about what you’re getting paid, but simply enjoy what you’re doing.
Who knows, maybe Jesus was just interested in teaching us about the nature of God, Yahweh, they call him --- who has such a wideness to his mercy, forgiveness, and love – who is SO generous that no one could ever be deserving of all these things – but can only accept them as pure gift. . . and then be a good steward of those gifts.
Or maybe in experiencing the generosity of the landowner – Jesus simply wanted us to become a bit more generous in sharing what little we have with those who are less fortunate. . .
Maybe we can all appreciate a bit more what we do have instead of grumbling about what we don’t have. . .
Perhaps I was supposed to learn all of these things or maybe only one of these things – it just makes you stop and wonder – at least it did for me: and maybe it will for you, too.
Well, it’s time to head off down the road to look for that next job. Thanks for letting me talk a little bit. And never let anyone be critical of YOUR generosity. . .
Moments in time...