The landowner is God. He goes out to hire workers for his vineyard. The vineyard is Gods domain, where God rules, his territory.
The workers are called into the vineyard and do the work required of them but when they realize that those who worked only one hour are paid the same wage as those who worked a full day they start to complain.
Here’s where it gets messy! We need to remember that the purpose of this parable is to teach us about God and his kingdom.
Obviously it means God is very generous… but God is generous for a purpose. Likewise God is tolerant but tolerant for a purpose, merciful for a purpose.
Tolerance is not the paramount value in God’s kingdom, no more than generosity or mercy. Conversion is the paramount value, entering into God’s employment and becoming the person God intended you to be is the paramount value.
It’s not ‘when’ you start working for God that’s important but that you do actually start. It’s not ‘when’ you enter Gods domain (as in early or late in life) but that you do actually enter.
Our typical response is to throw a tantrum. it’s not fair, we say. It’s articulated in various forms that all run something like ‘he can spend his life having a good time (which usually means living a life of sin) and then at the last hour convert and receive the same wage!’ Or sometimes it goes, ‘I’ve worked hard all my life, always tried to be faithful and what do I get?’
It’s often said with envy… that’s the give-away indicating how little we know of Gods kingdom. If we knew this much (as in a pinch of salt between your fingers) of Gods domain we’d also now that nothing compares to living in Gods grace (in a state of grace as the old theologians used to say), certainly not a life of self-indulgence. Have a read of the second reading to capture something of what it means to Paul to live in God’s grace and its absolute dominance over everything the world has to offer. It really is startling.
Finally, let’s equate those working in the vineyard with those who practice religion and we’ll notice something important.
The workers in the vineyard are just doing a job for a wage, they have not assumed their employers heart, they have not become like their employer, they have failed to push on to the next level… a common enough problem among those who practice religion!
The problem with the practice of religion is that it’s only a tool and like every tool it’s only as good as the man or woman using it!