God's grace is for all

Revd. Heather
Sunday, September 20, 2020 - 9:30am

I remember watching a film. I cannot remember its title, because that is not what stood out to me. What I remember is this: It was set in Latin America, and there was a dusty street along which so many people gathered. And as they were stood there, old white single decker coaches came along to hire people to go and do a days work. There was so much relief on the faces of those who crammed on the buses. But left on the dusty road were so many more people desperate for work; more left waiting for work than had found work, and amongst them people who perhaps at surface level didn’t look like the fittest workers, maybe due to an injury. The pain on their faces, how I felt for them. How were they going to feed themselves and their families? 

It’s those scenes from the film that come to the forefront of my mind as I read this parable. Of people who search for work so desperately, so that they may feed their families. As I hear this parable, I remember some of the people who I have met when working with charities and foodbanks. People who are hungry, and who would forgo food to feed their children. People who long for some food security. People who long for a true living wage for the work that they do, so that they may support themselves, and their families.

And on one level, that is what this parable is about: economic justice. The landowner (God) is ensuring that everyone has a daily wage that is enough to support them. There is a real living wage for all workers. Whether they work all day, or whether it is later in the day before they have work, they will still be given a wage that is plentiful enough to support them. And why shouldn’t they be? After all, it is probably those who were not hired until later in the day who had the hardest day. The anxiety, the uncertainty, the anguish of whether they would have an income makes for a tough day. For those who worked all day, the work may have been physically tough, strenuous, but all day they knew that all would be ok - there would be a decent wage to take home with them.

It is a parable that certainly can inspire us to campaign for economic justice today; for a real living wage for all people, so that those in this country and around the world earn enough to pay the bills. It requires us to question our attitudes as consumers, to buy what we need at the fairest price; to support companies that pay a living wage.

Yet economic justice, is just the first level at which we can read this parable. As with all parables, this one has more than one layer.

Most Biblical commentators are agreed that at a deeper level, this parable is about God drawing people to Godself and pouring out an equal abundance of grace upon everyone. God, the landowner of this parable, goes out to draw people to Godself – firstly in the morning, and then at intervals throughout the day. We can understand that as symbolic of God drawing people to Godself throughout their lives. Some come to God ‘early in the morning’ or early in life and spend their lives serving God, knowing God’s grace poured out upon their lives. Others come throughout the day, or during their adult life. Yet God keeps reaching out to draw people to Godself, even at five pm – the eleventh hour – towards the end of our earthly life, God is still welcoming people to come and know God’s grace. 

And so this parable is for everyone. No matter how long we have been a Christian, or how new we are to faith, God pours out God’s grace upon us in an equally abundant measure. It’s good news worth celebrating! In the parable we all receive the same wage; we all receive the same grace.

Although this parable does come with a warning for those of us who have been with God from the early morning, from early in our lives: we are never to be tempted to think that we are more deserving of God’s grace than anyone who is newer to the faith. In the parable, those who were hired in the morning felt that they should have more – a greater wage, a greater amount of grace. They struggle to accept that God would be as generous towards those who have only just come to know God. It, of course, has echoes to the parable of the Prodigal Son, with that sense of jealousy from those who have always been with God towards those who have more recently come to know God. And here, in this parable of the labourers in the vineyard we’re reminded that God’s grace is there for everyone, abundantly and in equal measure. God does not limit God’s grace towards anyone. God generously pours out God’s grace upon all who come to God. 

When we welcome people to baptism, I often tell them and their families that God’s love and grace will always be with them. Nothing they do can make God love them any more or any less. This parable is a reminder of that: God’s grace is poured out equally upon each of us. 

And it’s this free pouring of God’s grace and love upon us that we will celebrate in the Eucharist, as we recall all that Jesus has done for us. Whether we come to church often, or whether we come more intermittently, whether we have been coming all our life, or just in recent weeks or years, we come as equals to the Lord’s supper. We come because Christ has drawn us. We come because of God’s grace.