Derrick's powerful sermon based on Matthew 20:1-16 yesterday gave me new insight into Jesus' parable. I had paid attention to the agreement with the first hirelings (the usual daily wage - verse 2). I knew well the surprising conclusion (that those who had worked the least were paid the same as those who had worked the most).
What struck me yesterday was the landowners' promise to those in the middle - the ones who didn't work the most or the least, perhaps, the ones most like us. The landowner said to them, "You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right."
I like that phrase, "Whatever is right." The landowner has discretion. He determines what is right and he gives it. As it turns out, he's both a just and generous landowner so no one is underpaid, but most are paid more than expected - a full days' pay, regardless of how long they worked that day.
As we hear the grumbling of those who worked the full day ("in the scorching heat"), it seems evident that they wished they had worked less for the same pay. It's easy to imagine those who worked the least were grateful to have been hired and paid anything and must have been overwhelmed to be paid so much for such little work.
Those in the middle, however, it's hard to say. Were they annoyed to have been paid the same as those who worked less? Were they grateful to have been paid the same as those who worked more?
It's quite possible that they were thankful for both the work and the pay, that not only were they able to earn some money, they were able to do something meaningful with their lives. Maybe, instead of envying those who were able to work they least, they gave thanks for being able to be part of something bigger than themselves. They were able to give some portion of their day to working in a vineyard.
Wherever you are today, whatever your employment status, whatever your pay scale, I hope at least a portion of you is giving thanks that the Landowner wants to employ you in his vineyard to do meaningful work for him. However many hours (or years) you are given to serve him, the pay will be "what is right," which, for a landowner like this, is generous indeed.