Of all Jesus' words, teachings, and parables, this is one of the most difficult ones. Perhaps this is the one he got wrong the most. Big mistake! How can someone pay the same cash amount to those who worked all day and those who only worked for one hour?
Huge mistake. Impossible to agree.
If this horrible, subversive logic, revealed in the equal payment, was not enough, we still must deal with Jesus' conclusion: the last will be first!
That's right: the last will be the first.
Who is this guy? Who is this Jesus Christ? Why does he say such difficult things? Why does he present such complicated ideas? Why does he act so differently than normal?
That, my friends, is precisely the Christ we confess and follow. We don’t quite understand but in his actions, attitudes, thoughts, teachings, we can foresee a little of what it will be like in the Kingdom of God. Radically different from what we are practicing today, I guess.
The parable of the workers in the vineyard shows exactly the radicality of the Kingdom of God.
We haven’t seen it, but according to what Jesus tells, in the Kingdom of God, each person is valuable simply because they were created by God. Each person was imagined, thought of, planned, designed, created by God—just as they are. Their value is not connected to what they own, produce, know, or represent.
Of course, each person's contribution to the collective, as a response to God's love, is expected. Because God loves us, heals us, saves us, we respond to that love with concrete gestures. No one is saved by works, but no one is saved without works.
No one is saved by generous gifts, by caring gestures, by supportive actions, by wonderful academic contributions and achievements; yes, all that is expected, appreciated, welcomed, but as a response to the love of God, revealed in Jesus Christ.
The parable we heard speaks of radical justice. Justice that goes to the roots of the problems. It is equitable, qualitative, restorative, encompassing justice. Each person, regardless of the number of hours worked, receives what is necessary, receives what is needed to live.
That is what counts in the Kingdom of God. Not what I think I deserve for my effort, but what God thinks I need. Equal grace for everyone. Same amount. Same measure.
The parable touches deeply on our work ethics. Those who work deserve to be paid accordingly. That is correct. But what happens when there is no work? When there is no job? Jesus teaches that bread is a human right, regardless of jobs, regardless of hours worked. Bread and grace are human rights. Human-divine rights.
The last will be the first.
It is comforting to hear that the last will be first, especially when God chose you would be born in an economically exploited, industrially underdeveloped, socially colonized country, where injustice, inequality, hunger, and violence are daily realities. Yeah, it is comforting to hear that the last will be first.
The last will be the first! Sounds like a balm for those who live in the Global South, for those of us who are used to coming last.
The last will be the first. It also tastes sweet for churches that daily defy the laws of mathematics, churches that daily invent resources where they do not exist and daily struggle to survive and exist.
But there are other lessons here too.
The last will be first does not mean crossing arms and waiting for solutions and resources to fall from the sky. The last will also be the first to move, to think, to work, to seek change, to grow.
The parable of the workers in the vineyard shakes us from our chairs; it trembles the ground underneath our feet.
Who is this Christ who says such difficult things?
It is the same Christ who says, “I will be with you.” You don't need to walk alone.
Now for us in the ecumenical movement, for us ecumenical churches, what does all that mean? What does Jesus’ inverse economic logics have to tell us?
Nothing new but I will just remind us of what has already been said: all churches have equal access to God's grace. It doesn't matter if they are two thousand, one thousand, five hundred, thirty years old. It doesn't matter if their membership totals millions, thousands, or hundreds. What is important is that they be, in fact, committed to the liberating Gospel of Jesus Christ. All churches are incorporated into the communion called WCC that carries them and is carried by them.
All churches have things to offer. Whether be it money, personnel, theologies, spiritualities, churchgoers, time, music, creativity.
Churches, regardless of their charisms, dogmas, constitutions, and theologies, have the beautiful task of witnessing, teaching, and practicing the model of justice taught by Jesus in the parable. No one can be left out of the Kingdom of God. The only possible exclusion is self-exclusion.
We were reminded by Dr Azza Karam that Christ's love is for all humanity. Christ comes for the whole world and in a special way for the last, the least, and the lost.
Brothers and Sisters, the parable of the workers in the vineyard reminds us that there is a long way to go. But, if we walk together as a communion, the road is not a lonely place anymore. Shall we walk? There is a lot of work in the vineyard.