The actions of the landowner in this parable are actually a story about God's Grace. I think we all understand that the money paid to the workers was not connected to the amount of work they had done that day. The money they received that day was an example of the landowner's (God) grace.
The workers who worked all day complained that they should be paid more, and that it wasn't fair for the landowner to pay those who only worked part of the day. But, the landowner tells them that he paid them exactly what he had promised, and then asks them, shouldn't I be able to do whatever I want with what is mine?
There it is right there, the graceful truth. Everything belongs to God, none of us can lay a claim to any of it, God will give His Grace to anyone He wants, and in any amount. Grace is just that, grace. It has no strings attached, grace is an expression of God's love.
We can find out a lot about ourselves by the actions of the workers. How often do we find ourselves envious of the blessings that God gives to another person? Why do they get that great vacation? We work harder than they do, we deserve that vacation more. It is one of the hardest things for us to say the words "It couldn't have happened to nicer people." But, we know it could have, it could have happened to us.Our me first attitudes and our envy towards others destroys our ability to be thankful and live in gratitude. Instead, we are like the first workers in this parable, grumbling that we weren't paid enough or complaining that life isn't fair.
It drives me nuts when you are waiting in line to take an exit off the freeway, and someone comes up and jumps in front of you at the last second. If they are in the back, or last, they need to stay last, they need to respect those of us who were first. But this is not what it is like in God's Kingdom, Jesus says the last will be first, and the first will be last. Clearly this is what's happening in this parable, the workers who were hired last were paid first.
If you look throughout scripture, God chooses the least and the last and lifts them up. God chose a murderer, Moses, to lead His people out of Egypt and into the promised land. God chose a small, skinny kid, named David to be the King of Israel, and a teenage girl, from the backwater town of Nazareth, to be the mother of God. He chose a lowly carpenter to be the adoptive father of Jesus Christ. None of these people were great by earthly standards, but they were still chosen by God.
The Christians who persevered and endured, who came first, had to deal with the failures of Christians who were still recipients of God's Grace. We need to be ready for the time when God will lift up the last and the least. We might want to pay less attention to this world's champions, and pay more attention to the ones this world calls also-rans.
It is pretty humbling when this parable uncovers how big of a role envy plays in our lives. But, it is also thrilling to be reminded of the vastness of God's Grace. Grace that we have experienced, as well as those we least expect have experienced. Maybe we should be less worried about the fairness of this world, and realize that we need to just be thankful for whatever God's Love and Grace pours into our lives, and the lives of others......Amen