A Sermon from Sherborne
The parable of the labourers
A sermon for Evensong at Sherborne Abbey, preached on Sunday 17 February 2019 by The Reverend Guntars Reboks, Assistant Curate
This parable [Matthew 20. 1-16], just like many parables of Jesus, can be looked at from different perspectives. There is the man who started his work early in the morning. Some more people join in later to earn their money and so it goes on all day until, at the last hour, yet more are hired to work for the good master.
Now when it comes to payment I think we would all expect that the last men would receive less because they have not put so much energy and time into the work as the first, and nor have they laboured in the broiling heat of midday. But no, they all receive the same. And this is why the master is called the good master, because he gave to the last one more than he actually had earned, whilst giving the first exactly what he had promised. That is called God’s mercy! We know that “God provides rain for the just and unjust alike.” (Matthew 5:45) In other words, God’s mercy is limitless, accessible to everyone.
“You have made them equal to us” objects the man who worked the longest. To which the good master replies: “Is your eye evil because I am good?” The expression “evil eye” comes from the book of Sirach which was translated into Greek. The expression found its way in to the Gospel of Matthew.
Sirach reads: “The eye of the greedy person is not satisfied with his share. . . . An evil eye is envious over bread, and it is lacking on his table.” (Sirach 14:9-10)
What is really going on with this man who objects to the good master? His evil eye, his problem, is that he desires more than what he is due. He desires something that belongs to others.
The 10th commandment reads: “Do not want anything that belongs to someone else. Don’t want anyone’s house, wife or husband, slaves, oxen, donkeys or anything else.”
This parable emphasises the mercy and goodness of God, even when humans fail to recognise that we are all equal in God’s sight. And the scandal of this parable is that we all are covetous, we all desire what belongs to others. And when we desire what belongs to others and are jealous, we instantly fail to see the blessings God has bestowed on us in our lives.