You keep quoting that parable. I do not think it means what you think it means.

December 3, 2009 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

There is a well-used Christian expression (I really love Christian expressions, if by love you mean get highly annoyed by) that comes from a parable in Matthew 20, the parable of the workers in the vineyard.  Read here. In this parable, Jesus talks about a vineyard owner who is hiring people to work for him.  He hires people first thing in the morning and agrees to pay them a day’s wage (a denarius).  He keeps going back throughout the day, hiring more people, but he doesn’t say what he will pay those who only work part of the day.  Finally he goes back at the end of the day with only one hour left to work, or “the 11th hour.” (There’s our expression)  He tells them that he will pay them what is fair.

After the day is over, he starts paying everyone.  Starting with those who only worked an hour, the owner ends up paying everyone the same amount–a full day’s wage. The men who worked the whole day were outraged that they got paid the same as those who worked an hour.  The landowner’s response is like a punch in the face:

‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

The parable is referring to people who come into God’s kingdom.  When many of us quote this, we think of it in terms of when you came to faith.  So someone who comes to faith in the “11th hour” is someone who follows Christ at the end of their life.  The application of the parable then is for those of us who came to faith earlier to not be resentful of those who find God later. “Berrrnnnn”(That’s onomatopoeia for loud annoying game show buzzer sound)

Jesus is talking to the Pharisee’s.  Jewish people are the one’s who have been in the vineyard all day.  People new to the kingdom–the Church, Gentiles are the ones who come in at the end.  That’s you.  Regardless of when you came to faith, you are one who has come in at the 11th hour.  The payment that you have received for your time in God’s vineyard is way more than you deserve.  That is why it is referred to as gift (Romans 6:23).  Nothing you have done merits or earns the favor and gift of eternal life that God offers.

If you start identifying yourself with the people who have been working in the field all day, you can fall into the trap of the Pharisees where you begin to believe that you have earned God’s favor.  You haven’t.  It is a generous gift from a loving God.

Lord, how many times should I forgive?

Recently in a sermon, I was preaching on forgiveness.  I was fairly strong in the statements I made about the limits we put on forgiveness.  You can see that sermon here: In some circles that has caused quite a stir.  We don’t want to have to forgive everyone for everything, especially if they have hurt us repeatedly or deeply.  “You can only hurt me so many times” and “Well, I can’t forgive that.” is what we say.  However, there appear to be no limits on what and who we are to forgive.  I am reminded of this, because I was reading in Matthew 18 today.

In Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus tells a story about a man who owes the king 10,000 talents, the equivalent of millions of dollars.  In today’s money, that would be roughly 1 cagillion-babillion dollars.  It is an unreasonable amount of money.  It is such an outrageous amount of money that it makes the story bizarre.  Why would the king let such a debt run up? Why on earth would the king forgive such a debt?  Yet this is how Jesus describes our situation before God.  Our sin has run a cagillion-babillion dollar debt and he has forgiven us.

The servant after having his debt forgiven, then comes across someone who owes him a few dollars.  Rather than showing parallel mercy, he has that guy thrown in jail.  Again, this is absurd.  If the bank calls me and tells me they are getting rid of my mortgage and then I see someone who owes me $10,  I’m thinking, “no big deal.  I will make it up 100 times over after the first time I miss my mortgage payment.”  At least I would like to think that I would.  In fact, we do not forgive this way.  God has forgiven us of our sins which are great and we turn around and hold huge grudges for significantly smaller offenses.

Why do we do this?  One of two things (or both) are true.  First, we do not believe that our sin has truly run up a cagillion-babillion dollar debt (I believe this is the first blog post in history to use the word cagillion-babillion 3, now 4 times).  We think that God has only forgiven us a little.  Second, we don’t believe that by comparison people offending us represents just a few dollars.  Hurting me must be a lot of money, simply becomes I am just that important.  If you accidentally cut me off in traffic, that’s at least $10,000, isn’t it?  I mean you delayed me getting to where I’m going by at least half a second.  If you gossip about me and hurt my feelings, that’s off the chart.  At least that is what we believe.  However, by comparison, people’s sin against us are small compared to ours against God.  Do we believe that?

What are you holding on to? What grudge do you have? Whom have you not forgiven? Remember how God has forgiven you, celebrate that forgiveness and then forgive as God has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:32)