Gospel of Sunday, 21st September 2008
The Eleventh Hour
esus told this parable to his disciples: "The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner going out at daybreak to hire workers for his vineyard. He made an agreement with the workers for one denarius a day, and sent them to his vineyard.
Going out at about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market place and he said to them, 'You go to my vineyard too, and I will give you a fair wage.' So they went. At the sixth hour and again at about the ninth hour, he went out and did the same.
Then at about the eleventh hour he went out and found more men standing round, and he said to them, 'Why have you been standing here idle all day?' 'Because no one has hired us' they answered. He said to them, 'You go into my vineyard too.'
In the evening, the owner of the vineyard said to his bailiff, 'Call the workers and pay them their wages, starting with the last arrivals and ending with the first.' So those who were hired at about the eleventh hour came forward and received one denarius each.
When the first came, they expected to get more, but they too received one denarius each. They took it, but grumbled to the landowner. 'The men who came last' they said 'have done only one hour, and you have treated them the same as us, though we have done a heavy day's work in the heat.'
He answered one of them and said, 'My friend, I am not being unjust to you; did we not agree on one denarius? Take your earnings and go. I choose to pay the last-comer as much as I pay you. Have I no right to do what I like with my own? Why be envious because I am generous?'
Often it is the poorest person in the lowliest place who sees things as they really are. If I had worked all day and got the same pay as the one who worked for one hour, I would feel hard done by. It would not matter to me that I had agreed to a fair wage in the morning – the denarius was a fair day’s pay – and had got it in the evening. But if I had been the one who could find no work and had waited all day, idle and frustrated and fearful for a family who depended on my income, I would see the situation very differently. I would recognize the generosity of the landowner who gave me the dignity of working for the one hour and gave me a full day’s pay because he knew I needed it.
This story is not as far removed from real life as it may seem. Parents are like the landowner. They do not give their children only what the children work for. They try to be fair to all of them and not favour one over another; yet they give more time and attention to a particular child if that child needs it. They may face criticism from the other children and have to explain patiently: “We are not being unjust to you. We love you as much as we love the others, but your sister needs our special care right now.”
Many voluntary organizations reach out to people who can work only for a few hours each day, or who cannot work at all. Their goal is not to give handouts or to make people feel dependent, but to enable them to be as well as they can be, to live their lives to the full, and to make their own unique contribution.
The present economic system across the world is based on the theory that you only get what you can earn. One result is that millions of people stand idle all day because no one hires them, and their families live in extreme poverty. The great movement to eliminate world poverty – to “make poverty history” – will succeed only with the cooperation of countless generous, imaginative and hard-working people like the landowner that Jesus describes in this story.
God, Lord and master of the harvest,
you allot our tasks and determine
the just rewards of our labours.
Help us to bear the burden of the day
and accept your will in all things without complaint.