A Carpenter Talks About Farming

Matthew 20:1-6

“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at daybreak to hire workers for his vineyard. After agreeing to pay the workers the usual day’s wages, he sent them to work in his vineyard. About 9 a.m. he saw others standing in the marketplace without work. He said to them, ‘Work in my vineyard, and I’ll give you whatever is right.’ So they went. “He went out again about noon and 3 p.m. and did the same thing. About 5 p.m. he went out and found some others standing around. He said to them, ‘Why are you standing here all day long without work?’

A Carpenter Talks About Farming

Has it ever occurred to you that Jesus told stories about really “odd” farmers?
Maybe it is because I have grown up in the Midwest where agriculture is so important.Or maybe it is because of all those hours working in my mother’s half-acre garden.Or maybe it is because I worked on a dairy farm and for Pioneer Hi-Bred Corn. Whatever the reason, the stories that Jesus told about farming, always have seemed a little “off” to me.
Maybe it was because he was a carpenter and not a farmer. But then again, he had a pretty good grasp of fishing and shepherding. Those parables hold up very well with the realities of those professions.
However, these stories of farming? Well, here, let’s examine them for a minute.
He told a story about a farmer who scattered seeds on the path, amongst the rocks, and into the thorns. Now in that day and age, seed was precious. To have seed to plant, you had to save part of last year’s crop, which meant that you could not eat it when times got tough. If you consumed it all today, you would starve tomorrow.
Also the seed was scattered by hand as you walked through your field. You had precise control of where the seed landed. Why in the world would a farmer waste seed by throwing it where it had little or no chance of growing. That would be a very foolish or a very nearsighted farmer indeed who would waste his precious seeds.
Jesus also told the story about the farmer who had planted his crops and “an enemy” came and threw “weed seeds” in with his crop. Then he told his help not to pull the weeds because it would damage the crop. Certainly not what modern farming practice would dictate? The weeds would be using up vital nutrients that should be going to the crop.
A good farmer does everything he can to get the weeds out and keep them out. We use various methods to keep our crops clear of weeds. We hoe, pull, mulch and spray to control those weeds. When we see a field that is full of weeds, we tend to believe the farmer is lazy or does not care enough about his crops to protect them and keep them clean of weeds.
Now the part about an enemy who sewed weed seeds. Really? I can not imagine that happeing in modern times. Did “enemy farmers” actually resort to sabotage against their neighbors? I do not know for sure, however it seems unlikely.
For one thing, how much time did this enemy farmer spend harvesting weeds to gather those seeds. Did he intentionally not plant crops one year so that he could grow weeds? Seems pretty odd to me.
Then in today’s gospel reading we meet another peculiar farmer who has a vineyard. His grapes have grown. His vineyards have done very well indeed, what we would call a bumper crop and now it is time for the harvest.
His problem was that he had more work than he had workers.
The solution was simple enough, go into town and hire ‘day laborers’. And that’s what he did. He offered those that he found a fair wage for their day of labor and they accepted the contract without negotiation.
However, the landowner soon discovered that there was still more work than workers. So, back to town and hire more workers. He offered them the same contract as he had the first workers and again they accepted and went to work. Several times he did this right up until almost too dark to harvest.
In each case the farmer promised each group a “day’s wages”. A day’s wages means that each person received enough money to feed himself and family for the day.
Finally, the job was done and it was time to dole out the pay.
This is where the “blip” in this story starts. He pays everyone the same, no matter how long they worked. I wonder what union these folks belonged to?
Those that came latest were paid first. They took their wages and felt glad to be able to feed their families for another day.
At last it came time to pay those that were hired first. Well, understandably the ones that worked the longest were upset because they earned “only” the same as the people who worked the shorter day. That means that although the earned the same for the day, they made less per hour than the ones who came later in the day. They were upset.
Do you see what I mean, that none of these stories make sense? Not if you are actually thinking that they have anything to do with agriculture!
Of course, that is the point, they are not stories about farming.They are stories about the Kingdom of God.
When scattering the seed that is the Word of God, we are to be like the nearsighted farmer and scatter seed everywhere. We are to tell everyone about Jesus.
We understand that not everyone will listen – but we are not to prejudge them. Let God do that, it is His job.
Maybe He will spend some time cultivating the rocky ground and clearing the weeds, so that the next person who sews seeds of the Gospel of Christ will find good soil where the bad soil had been.
I, for one was a hard packed path on which nothing could grow. I heard the word, had seed scattered on me, countless times before it started to grow. Thank God that enough people were willing to cast seed in such an unlike spot as my soul.
And, of course, we are not to pull the weeds from the field. Again, that is God’s job to sort out the good from the bad.
Frankly, we would be very bad spiritual weed pullers. We can only see the past and the present. (Although sometimes we can’t see the present because it is hidden by our knowledge ot the past). So we make judgments without knowing the “rest of the story”. God can see clear to the end which makes him the only one who can determine whether it is a weed or valuable plant.
And, in today’s gospel reading, we understand that, while paying farm works a full day’s pay for an hour’s work makes little financial sense, if you realize that when “paying” workers in the Kingdom of God for bringing in souls, it makes sense.
The reward, life eternal, is the same regardless of when you enter into it.Nobody gets half of an eternal life, or a quarter, or and eighth.The reward is the same for all.
So it doesn’t make any difference when you started “working” for God – as a youngster, or as an oldster – the reward will be eternity with God.
Remember, when we work for God, the pay is always fair – and the retirement plan is unbeatable!
Praise God.Amen.

God bless

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All content (except quotations) ©2011Thomas E. Williams

Originally posted Thursday, August 18, 2011


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