Stories are one of the most powerful tools speakers have at their disposal. As a pastor I have used them for over 40 years. Jesus, the greatest communicator ever, used great stories, called parables to communicate challenging truths.
Many of his parables are well known, for example, the Prodigal Son and Good Samaritan. However, the story from Jesus I want to share today is relatively unknown. In Matthew 20:1-16, Jesus told of a farmer who routinely hired extra workers to help during harvest. Regular farmhands could not keep up during the busy harvest season.
In this story a farmer hired laborers at dawn, and then added more at 9:00 AM, noon, 3:00 PM and 5:00 PM, the final hour of the work day. He did not spell out what he would pay the laborers he hired at the later times but promised to “pay you whatever is right.”
At the end of the day, he paid each worker the same amount he had promised to those hired first. Jesus’ story is not difficult to understand, the challenge is in what Jesus was trying to teach. It is safe to assume he was not suggesting business owners use this model to determine what they pay their employees.
Prior to hiring the final group only one hour before quitting time, he asked why they were still there. They said no one had been willing to hire them. If someone could not find a job during harvest they did not have much hope of getting any work. It is likely these last workers were the least productive. We know that even children pick teams by selecting the best players first and the least skilled players last. This unusual generosity suggests the farmer hired the final workers more out of compassion than how much they would accomplish.
Jesus’ story reminds me of something the Apostle Paul would later write, when he encouraged believers, “Remember, dear brothers & sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you… God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:26, 28-29, NLT)
Simply put, God does not choose us because we are perfect, or because of what we can do for him, he chooses us because he is good and wants to use us in his kingdom. God offers hope to the hopeless. He offers encouragement to those who have given up on themselves for our ultimate hope comes from him, not us.