Proper 20A’23
24 September 2023
Matthew 20.1-16
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North Little Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone <+>



Parable of the Vineyard Owner (Speculum Humanae Salvationis), c. 1360

Westfalen oder Köln, um 1360. ULB Darmstadt, Hs 2505,


“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast;” In the Name of the Holy Three, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.


Welcome to Rally Day at St. Luke’s, where we try and get new commitments from new people to serve on various ministries and we try to get the same people to do more. I had a really great ‘shame-based sermon’ all worked up and ready to heap on the guilt – motivation by humiliation, but you’ve been saved from that sermon by Jesus’s parable today about God’s generous grace!

Jesus often taught in parables, but how are we supposed to understand them?  A parable is a small story with a large meaning. What often hangs us up when we hear a parable is that our literal minds have a hard time making sense of them. “Our literal minds” is the operative phrase. Parables almost always are meant to be understood figuratively rather than literally. This is one of the reasons the characters don’t have personal names, like John or Mary, but instead have names that are generic titles and occupations, like in the case of today’s parable the titles are a “landowner” and “laborers.”

So, a good question for us to keep in mind is, “what do the various characters represent?” What is the bigger picture amidst the small details. Another clue for interpreting parables the beginning line: “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard…”   Jesus is going to use common people, places, and things of earth to point us to a truth with a capital T. Then he tells the generic story that is purposely designed to grab the hearer’s attention, to help to see God, ourselves, and others in a new light, the light of the Kingdom of God. 

In general, it creates some discomfort and begs the question “Hey what’s up with this, I don’t like this story, that’s not how things are or supposed to be?!”  

I had some fun this week asking people from different vocational backgrounds to comment on this parable. The one that was a Human Resource Manager said if they paid those who only worked an hour the same wage as those who had worked all day, then the next day all the workers would show up only for the last hour of the day!” Human nature you just can’t trust it! An attorney said this parable doesn’t serve justice or fairness! I’m sure the United Auto Workers and Screen Actors Guild who are both on strike would have some pretty strong opinions about the parable’s meaning!

How does it strike you? How would this go over in your work place or at a family get together or a church potluck. One priest had a special name for this parable, “the Potluck Clean-up Crew’s Lament!” 20% of the people always doing 80% of the work so that everyone else gets to have all the fun! From a literal perspective this parable doesn’t ring true with our sense of justice and fairness or equal pay for equal work! The bad news of the parable is that it’s not fair, it seems to reward laziness, just as much as hard work, there’s no reward for seniority, it’s a pecking order that’s gone all wrong!

Well again, this is not so much about our place in society or our place of work, it’s telling us once again that the Kingdom of God is upside down and that truly is Good News, especially for anyone who has ever felt ‘less than’ or ‘not good enough’ in your performance, or from a lower socioeconomic class or ethnic background, or in a place in life where you’re a ‘day late and several dollars short.’ For all who reach for your own bootstraps only to find them greased with Vaseline and slipping through your fingers!

The biggest story in this little parable is the Good News for our souls and for eternity. What would life be like if we could embrace good news like these four lessons from the parable: 1) God is crazy about us! God Loves you and loves me, and all creation equally, deeply, and unconditionally. 2) We are ALL made in God’s image. 3) God’s generosity is beyond our wildest dreams! 4) There is nothing any of us can do to ever earn or deserve God’s generous grace! 

Laurie Beth Jones in her book Jesus CEO shares a story from the special Olympics that sums up well the lesson we are all trying to learn: “One young man, set to run in the 100-meter race in the Special Olympics, had trained for months and months. But when the gun finally sounded and he leaped out in front of the rest, it seems the excitement of the race overcame him. Each foot went in different directions, and the well-meaning athlete came tumbling down right in front of the starting block. The other racers, each as eager as he was to compete in this great event, nevertheless stopped running their own race and turned back to help him. The crowd came to their feet as his competitors lovingly lifted him up and then walked arm in arm across the finish line together.”[1] Those Special Olympic athletes have taught us “that nobody [truly] wins until we all do!”[2]

On this Rally Day may we all remember that we are each forgiven by God’s generosity not by anything we can do. But, as the unconditionally loved children of God may we not forget that life on the high road of the Kingdom of God is not a spectator sport, there is a position for all of us on God’s team of Love. Amen!



[1] Jones, Laurie, Beth, Jesus CEO: Using Ancient Wisdom for Visionary Leadership, (Hyperion: New York, 1995) pp. 289-90

[2] Ibid