A note from Kelly King: Are you a ministry leader who feels overlooked or under-appreciated? I can relate to the times I wanted to scream, “Does anyone know how hard I’m working?” Over time, I hope I’ve matured a bit and realized my heavenly Father knows my efforts. More importantly, He knows my heart and my motives. May I rest in His work in my life and not my own works. Let Courtney Veasey’s words encourage you today as you labor in the vineyard.
As we read through Scripture, we often see ourselves in the lives and narratives of biblical figures, identifying more with some than others. One in particular I deeply resonate with and venture to guess many in ministry leadership do as well, is the person of the all-day worker described by Christ in His parable of the vineyard laborers in Matthew 20:1-16.
Imagery of the vineyard is used throughout the Old Testament in reference to the kingdom of God, a theme we find prevalent in the New Testament as well. In this parable of Matthew 20, we encounter a generous landowner who, to our surprise, invites workers not just in the morning, but throughout the entirety of a workday, to labor in the security and provision of his vineyard. The landowner’s first call for workers begins early in the day, likely somewhere around 6 A.M. He contracts to pay a denarius, or a full day’s wage, to those willing to go in and work at that earliest hour. The landowner continues going out at various points of the day inviting others to the same, even until 5 P.M., when there was only an hour or so left in the workday. To these, however, he contracts to pay what is fair, leaving both the later-in-the-day-workers and the all-day workers to assume the amounts would be adjusted accordingly.
Placing the two groups in contrast, Jesus details how at the time of payment, the landowner calls for the one-hour workers to receive their wages just before the twelve-hour workers receive theirs. Next comes the whammy—the part where we can identify and so easily find ourselves in ministry. As they see the 5 P.M. workers receiving a denarius, the same they were promised, the all-day workers logically assume they will receive more. To their shock and ours as well, each group is given the same amount. Outraged, in verses 11-12 the all-day workers grumble to the landowner that he has made those no good, Johnny-come-lately workers as equal to them who have “bore the burden of the day’s work and the burning heat.” Quick to remind them of their wage agreement, the landowner also expresses his sovereign freedom to do what he pleases with what is his, and asks whether their sight is fixed on themselves rather than rightly on his gracious generosity.
Oh the many, many times I have had the attitude of these all-day workers. When I felt I had worked harder than some, only to be overlooked. When I have been pure and prayed fervently for years for a husband and family, only to be surrounded by twenty-two year olds getting engaged, and I will soon take part in my fifteenth wedding. To have wanted an invitation and not received it, to see certain people’s writing turn to gold and mine seemingly to dust, etc. And with the all-day worker of Jesus’ parable, I sometimes want to point my finger at the Landowner and grumble, crying, “That’s not fair!”
If like me, you also at times can identify with the all-day worker, let us receive some encouragement. First, as parables not only teach us about life but also about the Storyteller Himself, we should note that it’s Jesus who adds that part in about the burdens we carry and the scorching heat of the day (v. 12). God is fully aware of us, and He understands the conditions of our labor. We can rest in that truth and in the realization that it is only by His grace that we entered His vineyard at all. Second, while our burdens may get heavy and the sun beat down, it was far better that we said yes early on and have remained all this time within the security and presence of the Landowner, than to be standing outside His vineyard uncertain of our future. With this teaching from Christ, may we be humble, may we be ever grateful, and may we be glad for others when they too experience the goodness of the gracious Landowner.
Courtney Veasey considers the places she has lived, the ministry she has taken part in, and the people she has met along the way to be some of God’s greatest gifts to her. A native Floridian, Courtney has also lived and served in various ministry positions in South Carolina, Northern California, and recently was a member of the faculty and Director of Women’s Academic Study Programs at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Aside from her many affections in life (i.e. family, Florida State football, travel, music, etc.), Courtney’s greatest passion is to love and serve God and His people through the teaching of His living Word.