By Pastor Glenn Pease
A professor at the University of Chicago was asked to teach an advanced seminar on astrophysics.
There were a lot of reasons not to do it.
He was doing research in Wisconsin, and it would be a hundred mile round trip twice a week.
The course was scheduled for winter months, and so it could be dangerous driving.
Registration for the course fell far below expectations.
Only two students signed up for the class.
The negatives were so conspicuous that people expected him to cancel, but he didn't do it.
He made that trip all winter for those two students.
Ten years later in 1957 two students by the name of Chen Ning Wang and Tsung-Dao Lee both won the Nobel Prize for physics.
Dr. Chandrasekhar, the professor, won it in 1983.
Many success stories are based on the willingness of someone to make a big commitment to what seems like a small project.
The majority of Christians in this world serve small groups of people.
Sunday School classes of one to five, or youth groups from one to fifteen, and Bible studies of two to seven are typical, and they need to be reminded of this fact.
Studies show that the majority of pastors, missionaries, professors, and professional Christian servants of all kinds come out of small churches where someone was willing to work with small groups to change a life or two for the glory of God.
This has never been easy, and few can do it without frustration and doubt.
Is it worth it?
What good am I doing?
How can I ever be successful with so few to touch?
These are common questions.
The result is that working for the Lord is not all that different than secular work.
It leads to a lot of anxiety, frustration, and what is popularly called burn out.
If you study the world of work, you discover a high percentage of people do not like their job.
A fire drill in a four story factory revealed that workers could vacate the building in three minutes and eleven seconds.
But further observation showed that when the quitting buzzer sounded they could be out in two minutes flat.
People love to escape from their place of labor, and they love to complain about it.
You would think that if God was your employer, and Jesus was your boss, and the kingdom of God was your company, everything would be different.
But the New Testament reveals that Christian workers need constant encouragement to wake up and press on in their labor for the Lord.
After Paul gives a long and elaborate description of the ultimate rewards for the Christian laborer, he concludes with I Cor.
15:58, "Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm.
Let nothing move you.
Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain."
They needed the stimulus of reward to keep them from sliding into apathy.
This is a major problem with the church today.
Volunteerism has been dying for the past two decades.
They only way to get people to do anything is to hire them.
Christian people have become passive and want to leave everything to the professional.
Tony Complo in his latest book Carpe Diem, which means seize the day, paints a frightening picture of our secular and spiritual culture.
He travels all over the country and speaks to high school assemblies.
The kids are so apathetic that they no longer throw paper airplanes at him, and act up to give him a hard time like they use to.
They just sit and stare until he is done, so they can get going nowhere.
They don't come for help or advice or wisdom about life.
Churches are the same.
Christians have no dreams or goals, and you can't get them enthused about anything.
There is an absent of energy which represents a quenching of the Spirit.
He says it would be less threatening to face the firing squad today than to face a group of Christian teens and try to elicit any enthusiasm.
He may be exaggerating to make his point, but here is a man who sees the Christian world first hand, and what he sees is that people hate labor for the Lord just like they hate their secular jobs.
It is not a new problem.
It is just worse right now.
You see it in the New Testament, however.
It is a shock that Paul had to write to the Galatian church in say things like he does in 6:9, "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."
Can you imagine Christian people just getting sick and tired of being good people, and doing good things?
Can you conceive of them going on strike against the Lord, and saying that they will no longer be the salt of the earth and the light of the world?
We demand more wages for the stress and strain for trying to be good Christians.
It is just too hard, and we do not see that it pays off adequately.
If there is not more in it for me, I am giving up.
This may sound to radical to be real, but it brings us to the context of Matt.
20 where we see Jesus teaching the parable that deals with the issue of labor and management.
He is dealing with the kingdom of God, and what we see is that Christians have some of the same problems working for the Lord as they do in working for anyone else.
This parable is one of the hardest to understand, and just about everyone agrees it is impossible to grasp what Jesus is getting at without seeing the total context in which He speaks this parable.
For example, we need to look back at chapter 19 where Peter asks Jesus in v. 27, "We have left everything to follow you!
What then will there be for us?"
In other words, what does this job pay?
This is the bottom line in any job-what is in it for me?
I don't work for my health even if it is proven that work is healthy exercise.
I want to get paid for what I do, and Peter is asking Jesus to get to this bottom line and tell him about the wage package for being a disciple.
Then if we go to the other side of the parable and look at verse 20 and following, we read the story of the mother of James and John coming to Jesus and asking that her two boys be allowed to sit at His right and left hand in His kingdom.
She has high ambitions for her sons, and nothing less than the top of the heap will satisfy her.
So what we have here is the three top Apostles that Jesus chose for His inner circle all concerned about what is in it for them.
What will they get for their labor for the Lord?
Is this a good job, or will I do better if I stick to fishing for a living?
It is in this context of economic concerns that Jesus tells this parable.
It is a parable that is both disturbing and comforting.
It is a good news-bad news lesson that Jesus is teaching.
We will look at the bad news first, and then end on the good news note.
I. THE BAD NEWS.
The bad news is that the good news rubs us the wrong way.
The amazing grace of God is also the appalling grace of God when it makes those inferior to us equal to us because of God's generosity.
In this parable the men who are hired to work for just the last hour of the day are paid the same wage as those who labored all day long in the heat of the sun.
When they saw those late comers getting a denarius, they figured they would receive a lot more, but they didn't.
They got the same denarius for their full day.
They began to grumble against the land owner.
They made a verbal protest against what they felt was a unjust action.
This is the word used in the Greek Old Testament to describe the constant murmuring of the people delivered from Egypt.
They grumbled at Moses, Aaron, and they grumbled at God.
They wanted to go back to Egypt and get a decent meal for a change with some garlic and leeks.
Nothing was right and all was wrong, and they were highly critical.
They just did not like God's plan at all.
It was a pain, and they griped all the way to the Promised Land.
God's ways do not always please even godly people.
We come to the New Testament and this word is used to describe the complaint of the Pharisees against Jesus for His dealings with publicans and sinners.
Here is the Son of God doing His thing.
He is loving the unlovely, and showing grace to sinners, and what does He get but grumbling?
I don't know about you, but I have always been disgusted with the Old Testament people of God and the New Testament Pharisees for their complaints against God and Jesus.
But here is the bad news-this parable of Jesus catches us all and almost forces us to be as guilty as those we are disgusted with.
I can't help but feel the same as the grumbling workers who labor all day and get no more than those who work one hour.
It is just not fair, and I cannot be so pious as to say that if I was one of those all day workers I would not be a part of the protest group doing the grumbling.
The land owner has a point when he argues that it is his money and that he has a right to do with it as he pleases, but the fact is, it just does not seem fair, and that is the bad news about God's amazing grace.
It just does not set right with fallen human nature.