VIGNETTES FROM THE VINEYARD
The personhood of Jesus Christ reveals the very essence of stewardship and to obtain a clear, concise understanding of the two terms, one must look to the teachings of Jesus Christ. In the center of His teaching is a value placed on the dignity of humankind. This concept runs throughout the Bible. Note Leviticus 25; a theology of ecology and service is there. It shows proper use of the land, the proper conduct of relationships, proper banking procedures, and the list goes on. This is applied ‘stewardship and service’ theology. From Christ’s example of stewardship and service, we see that the use of talents, gifts, and resources, if correctly understood, will lead to serving others. In Deuteronomy 15; 23:15, 16, the concept of human dignity continues. In the New Testament it is again established and undergirded by the teachings of Jesus Christ.
The shepherd was personally responsible for the stewardship and service of the sheep. If a sheep was lost, the shepherd must at least bring home the fleece to show how it had died.
The lost sheep, the lost coin, and the certain man that had two sons; in these parables of Luke 15, the focus in each vignette is the value inherent in each individual who was ‘once lost but now is found.’ Every effort is made to find the missing one. The responsibility to find and restore was upon the shepherd, the woman, and the father respectively. All of humankind is represented at one time or another in this trilogy.
For example, the shepherd was personally responsible for the stewardship and service of the sheep. If a sheep was lost, the shepherd must at least bring home the fleece to show how it had died. The shepherds were experts at tracking and could follow the straying sheep’s footprints for miles over the hills. Talk about forensics—, the shepherd was sharp. The woman of the next story was also relentless in her search. With limited light she searched and searched until the coin was found and restored. The father’s daily routine in the third story, included waiting and looking out for his son. Finally on that happy day he saw him, and restored him.
This searching for ‘the lost’ did not go over well with the strict Jews. The Pharisees termed people who did not keep the law the “People of the Land.” One would imagine that these religious leaders did not sing the song about, “ there is more joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents,” but that they rather enjoyed the thought of that one sinner being obliterated from the book of life. In many ways we do not use or apply our stewardship to servicing those living and dying in urban villages. Various structures and the lack of infrastructure keep people in poverty, born and dying in inhuman conditions, with no help. The theology of ecology, the theology of stewardship and service, if correctly understood and applied, would make major differences in our urban communities. Once again the applied theology of the stewardship of service is seen in the fact that every kind act done to the least of them, i.e. the widows, the fatherless, those without family, the poor, the hungry and the thirsty, the prisoners, the pimps and prostitutes, in the name of Jesus, is received by Him as if it were done to Himself, for He identifies His interest with that of suffering humanity. He has entrusted to His church the grand work of ministering to Jesus by helping and blessing the needy and suffering (Counsels on Stewardship, p. 164).
In Matthew 20:1-16 Jesus tells the parable of the vineyard. In Palestine the grapes ripen in late September. The harvest time calls for many workers to gather the grapes before the rain comes.
The pay in Christ’s day was a denarius for a day’s work. Not much money for the lowest of the working class. These men were waiting like men in the parking lot of Home Depot. In Palestine the market place was the equivalent of the labor exchange. A man came there first thing in the morning, carrying his tools, and waited until someone came and hired him. These ‘men in the market-place’ were not gossiping idlers, they were waiting for work, and the fact that some of them waited until five o’clock showed how desperately they wanted work.
In the parable, the householder went to this labor-exchange early morning and reached an agreement with the workers that they would work for nine pence a day. Into the vineyard they went and started to work. Around 9 a.m. he went back to the site and hired more workers. He returned around 12 noon to hire more, back again around 3 p.m. He made one more trip close to 5 p.m. He found still more workers. “Why are you still here?” he asked them. They replied, “No one has hired us.” So he told them go to the vineyard.
When quitting time arrived, the paymaster began to pay them the nine pence, which was agreed upon. The workers who had started earlier grumbled when they saw that those who had come later and worked less, received the same pay. It was explained to them that they agreed to the wage, and furthermore it was the right of the owner of the vineyard to do with his money whatever pleased him. He had not cheated or robbed them.
The original lesson of this parable may be this: Those who come to the Kingdom early in life, or those who come late, all humankind— no matter when they come, are equally precious and valuable to God. Some people think that because they have been members in the church for a long time, they practically own the church and they can dictate how it is run and control its policies. These members resent new members. The truth is, however, that in the church, seniority does not necessarily mean that greater honor is due. In this parable there is warning to the Pharisees as well as to us in the church today. The Jews looked down upon the Gentiles. They felt that they were the chosen people, not the Gentiles. If the Gentiles were to be allowed into the church, they must come in as inferiors. In God’s social economy, there is no such thing as favoritism among nations. There is no master race.
The vignettes of comfort from God are that no matter when a person enters the church, whether it be late or early in life, even up until the shadows are lengthening, they are precious to God.
The vignettes of the compassion of God are that He cannot bear to see these workers in the market place with no work, no honest way to feed and care for their families.
This parable states implicitly two great truths foundational to the fabric of human dignity for the working man: The right of every man to work, and the right of every person to a living wage for his work.
The vignettes of the generosity of God are that just as the men did not all do the same work, but they did receive the same pay, we ought to find two great lessons. Firstly, all service ranks the same with God. It is not the amount of service given but the amount of love in which it is given which matters. The second lesson is that all which God gives is given as grace. We cannot earn what God gives us. It is given out of the goodness of His heart. What God gives is not payment but a gift, not a reward, but grace.
Finally, we need to clarify in what spirit is the work done? “God loveth a cheerful giver,” (2 Corinthians 9:7). Crushed spirits and broken wings exist in this world because the stewardship of service is not realized by God’s people. Unfulfilled lives are wasted stewardship and service. The applied theology of the stewardship of service will stand strong on these quotations:
“God's word sanctions no policy that will enrich one class by the oppression and suffering of another. In all our business transactions it teaches us to put ourselves in the place of those with whom we are dealing, to look not only on our own things, but also on the things of others. He who would take advantage of another's misfortunes in order to benefit himself, or who seeks to profit himself through another's weakness or incompetence, is a transgressor both of the principles and of the precepts of the word of God” (Ministry of Healing, 187).
“In the kingdoms of the world, position meant self-aggrandizement. The people were supposed to exist for the benefit of the ruling classes. Influence, wealth, education, were so many means of gaining control of the masses for the use of the leaders. The higher classes were to think, decide, enjoy, and rule; the lower were to obey and serve. Religion, like all things else, was a matter of authority. The people were expected to believe and practice as their superiors directed. The right of man as man, to think and act for himself, was wholly unrecognized” (The Desire of Ages, 550). These surely depict the true application of the principles of the stewardship of service. Amen!