This homily was preached on Sunday, February 8, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois by Fr. Joseph Gleason.
Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services.
Gospel: Matthew 20:1-16
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. God is One.
This particular parable would do well to teach us not to envy. We currently live in a culture which is very egalitarian. It treats it as a virtue to treat everyone exactly the same. Equal work for equal pay! It doesn’t matter whether you’re male or female. It doesn’t matter whether you’re single. It doesn’t matter whether you have a family to support. Our current culture says,
“The only thing that matters is how much work you do, and you should be paid accordingly.”
Jesus stomps on that idea.
Think about it: In today’s terms, suppose that the very last person at the eleventh hour was offered a full day’s wages. Let’s say that’s $80. That means that he earned $80 an hour for that one hour that he worked. Now, think of the people at the beginning of the day. They put in a good eight or maybe ten hours, maybe more.
Just for easy math, let’s say it was ten hours that they put in that day – ten hours of hard labor, and they got a day’s wage. Say that’s $80. That means that person got $8 an hour for the same work. They were working in the same field doing the same task. Jesus says it is perfectly just and lawful for him to pay $8 an hour to these people and $80 an hour to these people. He says,
“Is it not just for me to do what I will with My own? Did you not agree with me for this amount of money?”
If you agreed to work for $8 an hour, and you work and get paid $8 an hour, you have absolutely nothing to complain about. If the master pays somebody else $80 an hour, it’s none of your business!
He uses this as an analogy for the kingdom of Heaven.
There are some people who come into this early in the game.
Think of Enoch.
Think of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Think of Moses.
They came into this very, very early in the game. They were not given the same things that we’re given. Now, they were given wonderful things, but when Abraham was born, there was no Orthodox Study Bible. We think, “Well, what about the Old Testament?” No, there was no Old Testament. “Well, if there’s no Old Testament, what about the Pentateuch – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy?” Well, if that was going to be written down by Moses, that was still 400 years later.
Think of what Abraham had to do without having any of these Scriptures to read that we have. He couldn’t read about the Israelites crossing the Red Sea or the plagues of Egypt. He couldn’t read about the birth of Christ. He couldn’t take the Eucharist. So many of the things we take for granted, this rich inheritance that we have – Abraham didn’t have that. God dealt with him where he was, and where he was, a shepherd out in the wilderness, he believed God; and God accounted it to him as righteousness. Out of him, He raised up a mighty nation.
I have to wonder, “How well would I fare, how well would any of us fare, if you took away almost the entire history of the Church and Israel? Give us no Scripture, and then stick us out in the wilderness in the Middle East to herd a bunch of sheep. How well would we live our lives for God? How faithful would we be without all of this inheritance to hold us up and to prop us up?”
But, by the mercy of God, even though we have arrived at the eleventh hour, God is merciful and gracious enough to give us the same heaven that He gives Abraham. We inherit the same paradise that he gives to Moses. These great forefathers of the faith, and mothers such as Hannah, Ruth, Mary: We inherit the same heaven that they do.
This is how the kingdom of heaven works. Some were brought in on this very early, some very late. It works the same way during every time according to age.
In our age now, there are some who, like our blessed little ones in this church, get introduced to the Church very, very early. [They are] baptized into the Church as infants, raised up in the Church, raised up with daily family prayer, raised up with a weekly Eucharist, greatly blessed. God charges them to work a full day – their full lives – for the kingdom.
There are others of us that didn’t discover the Church until we were 30 years old or 70 years old. God doesn’t say, “It’s too late. You can’t get in.” He says, “No, it’s for you the eleventh hour. The Church has been around all this time, but you just found out about it at the age of 70. There is still work to be done. Come out into the field. Let’s work. Let’s work for the kingdom, and I’ll pay you a full day’s wages. You can come into the paradise the same as the person who, 70 years ago was baptized into the Church and has faithfully lived the past 70 years for Christ. You can come in now and live out the rest of your life for Christ, and I’ll send you to the same paradise. I will bring you to heaven to be with Me and My Father.”
It’s very encouraging, but it can also tempt a person to be lax, to be careless. That’s a danger that we need to avoid. You see, there is one thing that all these workers in the vineyard have in common. It’s a very subtle point in this particular parable, but it’s a critical point. They all get paid, but what they all have in common is that they all persevered to the end.
In this particular parable, what Jesus does not mention is: “What about the guy that started early in the day, working hard, and worked hard for a whole hour, and after one hour said, ‘This is just too hard. I can’t take this. This is too much work’?” So he leaves, and he walks away. He doesn’t work out there anymore. He doesn’t work in the field; he doesn’t work in the vineyard; he just goes back to being idle.
Now, he put an hour’s work in the same as the guy who was called at the eleventh hour. We know that the guy who was called in at the eleventh hour and worked until the end of the day got a day’s wages. But how much payment do you think was received by the guy who worked an hour early in the day and then gave up and went back to being idle? Do you think he was paid anything? He was not!
Both may have worked the same amount of time; both may have put in the same amount of effort, but one persevered to the end and the other did not.
We read in Scripture about King Uzziah. He’s mentioned in Isaiah 6. “In the year that King Uzziah died, I was high and lifted up, and I saw the Lord” (cf Isaiah 6:1). King Uzziah is portrayed as a very good, godly king. For 52 years, he faithfully ruled Israel in a godly way. After all that, after 52 years of being a faithful, godly king, he succumbed to pride. He saw some of the things that the priests were doing in the temple and said, “Well, I’m the king. I should be able to do that too. I, I, I . . .”
So he presumed to take tasks upon himself which were reserved for the priests, and because of his prideful thoughts, God struck him with leprosy on his head which instantly made him ineligible to even be in the temple at all, and he ran out of the temple. Now, instead of ruling as king, he’s an outcast as a leper. Then he dies, and even in death, they do not bury him with the other kings because he had leprosy. Even in death, he’s a castaway. Now, I pray to God that he repented. I pray to God that he is in heaven.
This gives us a sobering picture of what it means to live faithfully for god for 52 years and then just to get tired, just to give up, to stop working in the field, to stop working in the vineyard, and say, “You know what? I’ve done enough. I’ve done enough! I’m done! I’m not going to persevere. I’m not going any further with this.”
There is another parable that Jesus tells that brings this even more to light, and it is the parable of the talents. There is the man given five talents, the man given two talents, and the man given one.
The one given five talents was faithful to work. He invested it. He did business. He increased that five talents up to ten talents worth of money and presented it to his master. His master said, “Well done thou good and faithful servant. Because you have been faithful in little, I will give you command over much. I will put you in control over ten cities in my kingdom. You’ll be a great governor.”
The man who was given two talents worked faithfully. He invested it. He did business. He multiplied that two talents up to four talents worth of money, and he presented it to his master. His master said, “Well done thou good and faithful servant. You’ve been faithful in little, so I’ll give you command over much. I’ll give you four cities in my kingdom.”
In one sense, they both were paid the same, because both of them, regardless of how much they started with or how much they ended up with, were given a place in the kingdom. Both of them got to be a part of the master’s kingdom. In another sense, the one who had more was granted even more, and that is certainly God’s prerogative. He can do what He will with His own. If He wants to give greater rewards, He’s certainly free to do that.
But the one who only had one talent: He didn’t throw it away. He didn’t go off and spend it on pleasures and steal it. The only thing he did was be lazy, be idle. He didn’t want to work. He said, “You know what? I’ll just bury this and keep it for later. When the master gets back, I’ll give him his money back. No harm; no foul.”
He gives that talent back, and the master says, “You wicked, lazy servant.” He had him cast out. He couldn’t even be in the kingdom. He took that one talent away, and he gave it to the guy that had ten. The other servants said, “Lord, he’s already got ten. You’re going to give him an eleventh one?” And Jesus says,
“Unto him who has, even more shall be given. But unto him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
It doesn’t matter whether you are given little or much. If you are faithful with it; if you work hard with it; if you’re like the men with five talents or two talents who are faithful, and you are diligent, and you work hard; if you are like the men in the vineyard who, whether you called at the beginning of the day or the end of the day, if you go out there and work hard faithfully ‘til the end, it doesn’t matter. God will reward you. God will give you a place in His kingdom.
But if you refuse to go in the vineyard at all; or if, having gone out there, you give up, having put your hand to the plow, if you turn back and say, “This is just too hard. I’m not willing to work this hard” like the man with one talent; if you’re so wicked and slothful that you don’t want to do anything with it and just let it sit there and collect dust, then even what little you do have will be taken away and given to someone else. Your very place in the kingdom will be forfeit.
God called them to work in the field. He did not call them to play. He called them to work in the field. He did not call them to entertain themselves or to be comfortable. He called them to work in the heat of the day. He didn’t call them to the shade with pink lemonade. He called them to work. Jesus Himself is the One that says, “This is what the kingdom of heaven is like.” Do you want it? You’re going to have to work!
“Oh! I caught you! You said ‘work’ in the same context as heaven and salvation! So, see, you believe in works-salvation. You just think you’re going to earn your way to heaven, don’t you?”
Well, let me ask you: The one who only worked for an hour, was the master being very generous to give him a day’s wages, or did he really, truly earn a whole day’s wages just by working for one hour?
“Well, that’s what they agreed on. That was the agreement!”
Fine. Was the agreement set up in such a way that there was an even trade being made? Absolutely not! No one in their right mind would say, “Yeah, it’s worth a full day’s wages just to go out and work for an hour in the field. The Lord was very, very generous, very, very gracious. The fact that they agreed on it together changes nothing.
If a generous man makes an agreement with you that “if you’ll just take care of my flower garden, just keep my flower garden and my front yard nice and trimmed, I’m going to give you a million dollars,” would you be foolish enough to say, “I earned all that money myself. That’s mine. I did that. I deserved it.”?
Then what kind of a fool would think that anything we could do for the Lord would earn us heaven, would earn us an eternal place in glory?
There is nothing you can do to earn salvation, but there are plenty of things that you can do to demonstrate such a disdain of salvation, such a disrespect for the Lord, such a despising of the kingdom of heaven that you can miss out on it. The Lord will say, “Okay, fine, if it means that little to you, then you don’t get it.
If that generous benefactor says, “Look, I really need somebody to take care of my flower garden. Would you please help me with that? It would mean a lot to me. And I’ve got all this money. I don’t need it. I’m going to give you a million dollars to help you, and your family, and your children so you can do whatever you need to do.” If you look him in the eye and spit on the ground and say, “I’m not going to pull weeds around your stupid flowers. That would mess with my manicure,” he’s well within his rights to say, “You know what I just said about that million dollars? Never mind. I’ll find somebody else.”
You cannot work enough to earn your salvation, but you can so despise salvation by refusing to work that, finally, the Lord says, “just never mind. You obviously aren’t that interested. It obviously doesn’t mean that much to you. I promised you something so rich; I promised you something eternal; I promised you something so magnificent, and the tiny, insignificant little thing that I’ve asked you to do? You’re not even willing to do that. Never mind. Never mind.”
Think of the Lord’s graciousness with Naaman the Syrian in 2 Kings 5. He was covered in leprosy, and Elisha didn’t ask any great thing of him. He didn’t say, “You’re going to have to pay me five million dollars; and you’re going to have to do this religious pilgrimage; and after seven years of faithful service with these religious pilgrimages, then the Lord will heal you.” He didn’t do that.
All he said is, “Go baptize yourself in the Jordan. Go dunk yourself in the Jordan seven times.” That’s it. “Just go take a bath in some dirty river water.” That’s all he said.
Is there anybody foolish enough to think that Naaman earned his cleansing from leprosy whenever he dunked himself seven times in the water? “He deserved it. He earned it. He worked for it.”
Of course not. He didn’t deserve a thing. It was the gracious gift of God. Yet, what if Naaman had so despised God’s prophet? What if he had so despised the Lord that Naaman said, “[scoffing] I’m not even going to do that. I’m not going to go to the Jordan. I’m not going to dunk myself seven times. Forget it.” Then the Lord would say, “You know that cleansing from leprosy that I promised you? Never mind. It’s not going to happen.”
Wherever you are in your life, whether you feel like you’ve come in early and you still have many hours left in the day, or whether you feel like it’s the middle of the day (half your life is gone, but half of it still remains), or whether you are 60 or 70 years old and God just recently has brought you into His fold and you feel like the guy called to the field at the eleventh hour, God has a magnificent gift for you: an eternity in His presence. You can’t earn it. You cannot deserve it. And God is graciously looking over the fact that for the first hour, or four hours, or maybe even for the first eight or nine hours of the day, you were idle and not working in His vineyard.
Even if all you have left is just an hour or two, even if all you have left in your life is just a year or two, the common denominator in the story is this: The people who got paid were the people who persevered to the end of the day working, not playing. With however much time you have left in your life, whether it’s six months or whether you still have another sixty years, God calls you to persevere to the end with effort, with work, with labor.
Saint Isaac the Syrian said, “This life has been given to you for the purpose of repentance. Do not waste it on vain pursuits.” Vain pursuits [include things] like always being preoccupied with your own comfort, with the level of your income, with the stature of your success in your particular career. Be about the work of the kingdom.
If God has given you parents, honor them.
If God has given you siblings, love them and care for them genuinely.
If God has given you a spouse, then pray for them daily, pray with them daily.
If God has given you children, then you have a very sober charge on your hands, for Jesus spoke in no uncertain terms when he said, “If you do anything to cause one of these little ones to sin, it would be better for you if a millstone was hung around your neck and you were cast into the sea” (cf Luke 17:2). In short, if you choose not to be a good parent, if you choose not to be a godly parent, you would be better off dead! Those were the words of Christ Jesus Himself. You would be better off dead that to lead any of your children in an ungodly way.
“But it takes a lot of work. All the things I have to do anyway just to get dressed every day, and do my job every day, and to clean the things that I have to clean or cook every day – it takes up so much of my time. Do you realize how much work it would be to actually get serious about my marriage and to spend hours out of every week talking with my wife, talking with my husband about how we can make our marriage a more godly one? Do you realize how many hours of effort I would have to put in if I wanted to take my children seriously – if I wanted to put hours of work into homeschooling them, praying with them, disciplining them, training them up in righteousness? In the Christian walk outside my family, Jesus said that we’re supposed to be generous to the poor and help other people. Well, you see, I’m different. I’m in a different state. I can’t do these things, because the Lord just hasn’t given me enough money. If I had lots of money, then I would be generous to the poor. I would give to the poor. But, you see, I’m off the hook, because I just don’t have much of anything. I barely have enough to cover my three vehicles and my 3,000 square foot house. Then there’s my wardrobe and all the restaurants that I want to go to.”
Wait a minute. Back off just a little. What about a person who only has a one-bedroom apartment, and they eat very sparsely, and they have very few clothes? Is that person off the hook? No!
Just two or three days ago in the Prologue [from Ohrid], we were reading about this one particular saint. He lived near a lake, and he didn’t have much of any money at all. What he would do is go to that lake and go fishing, and with the fish he would catch, he would go to the market and sell them. This takes work. It takes hours to sit there and fish, and then clean the fish, and take the fish to market, and find somebody to buy them. Finally, after going through all that, after he sold the fish, he would take that money and instead of buying more clothes for himself, instead of going to a nice restaurant, instead of going on a trip, this saint would take that money that he earned from catching the fish and selling them, and he would give it to the poor.
So, even if you have nothing, there is a simple solution. If you want to be merciful, if you want to give to charity, if you want to give to the poor, then do some extra labor, some extra work that you’re not already doing so that you have something to give.
People have asked me why I don’t own a TV, why I hardly ever see any TV shows. It’s because if you’re going to live the Christian life fully, you won’t have any time left for entertainment. I’m not joking. I’m talking seven days a week from the time you wake up until the time you go to sleep, if you are working as hard as you should to take care of your family, if you are working as hard as you should to train up your children daily in righteousness, if you are working as hard as you should to see to it that your family is praying together every day, if you are working as hard as you should to be reading the lives of the saints and studying the teachings of the Church, if you are working as hard as you should to seek out the missionaries and to seek out the poor so that you might show mercy unto them, if you are working as hard as you should so that you have a surplus so that you have something to give to those missionaries and those poor people, if you are working as hard as you should to respond to the needs and the cries of your brothers and sisters and neighbors and family members and church members, there’s just not going to be too much time left for soap operas. There won’t be too much time left for dime store novels. There won’t be too much time left for a lot of things.
These laborers out in the vineyard: they didn’t have time for these things either, because they were working. Jesus didn’t pay everybody in the town a day’s wages. The only people He paid wages to were those worked and persevered to the end.
There’s a flippant old saying that you can sleep when you’re dead, but there’s a lot of wisdom in that saying. A lot of the saints have given up a lot of sleep so that they could pray more, so that they could give more, so that they could work more. And in death, now, they actually can sleep; they can rest. You want to talk about entertainment? You want to talk about pleasure? You want to talk about joy? How about doing that for all eternity – all eternity in peace, and rest, and joy, pain-free?
But to live this way, it almost sounds like a death, because there are these things that I love to do. There are these things that I love to engage in. There are these things that I want to do, and if I literally poured out my entire life from morning until night, seven days a week; if I just poured out all of my efforts and energies into worship, and prayer, and teaching my children, and giving to the poor, there would be nothing left for me. It would almost be a death. It would almost be like I cease to exist, like I cease to matter, like I’m just a dead person already. What point is there in living?
The reason it feels like that is because it is a death, and a death is precisely what you have been called to: A crucifixion of your desires; a crucifixion of your wants; a crucifixion of you so that you might be resurrected in the likeness of Christ.
We see this up close and personal in the lives of the martyrs. There was one particular martyr who was about to be burned at the stake. As they did so often, they still gave him a way out. They said, “Look, you’re about to suffer, and burn in torment, and die, and you won’t see another sunrise. We’ll take all of this away from you and let you go free if you will just deny Christ. Just turn your back on Christ. That’s all you have to do.” And this great man of God looked back at the executioner and said,
“I would have to be a fool to give up this fire that burns for only one hour in exchange for the fires of hell that burn for all eternity.”
He recognized the truth. He recognized that everything changes when you consider heaven and hell, when you consider eternity. In the perspective of eternity, this entire life is just a hand-breadth. Just a snap of the fingers, and it’s over. He was willing to suffer in the flames and let his body be burned to death so that he might not burn in eternity, so that in eternity he might have pleasure and joy and peace in the presence of Christ. He recognized that a burning now, or a crucifixion now, was nothing in comparison to the glory of heaven, the glory of paradise.
But some of us God does not call to burn at the stake. He doesn’t call us to be crucified on a cross. The Apostle Paul said. “I die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31). What he is saying is, “I daily am crucified to my affections. I am crucified to my desires. I’m crucified to my wants.”
Over the decades that the Apostle Paul lived, he was beaten, burned, whipped, stoned, nearly drowned, ridiculed, spat upon, put in prison, and he didn’t do a single one of those things because it was fun. He didn’t do a single one of those things because he thought, “Man, this is better than going to Florida! This is better than being on vacation.”
It was a crucifixion. It was a death. It was a putting to death of his own desires. But he saw that 30 or 40 measly years on earth with all the suffering that the devil can pour on you is nothing compared to an entire eternity in the glory of Christ.
So back to today’s parable, to working in the fields. You can be encouraged by the fact that Jesus promises you paradise regardless of how early or late you got in the game.
Whether you were brought into Christianity as an infant and raised up as a child, or whether you are 70 years old when you first come into the Church, you can be encouraged knowing that Christ offers you eternity, that Christ offers you paradise.
Also, keep in mind that everybody in the parable who gets paid is somebody who is willing not to just stand around idle but somebody who is willing to work hard and persevere until the end of the day. However much time you have left, however many years you have left, are you going to waste it on yourself?
Are you going to waste it on your pleasures? Or are you going to diligently work hard for the kingdom realizing that you’ve only been given a short life, realizing that the difficulties you’ve been called to are only for a little while?
Are you going to persevere with effort all the way to the very end so that you might be found faithful; so that you might, like the man with five talents and the man with two, you might be found faithful and enter His kingdom? Or are you going to be like the man who was lazy and idle and wouldn’t even work with the one talent he was given and ultimately lost even that and was cast out of the kingdom?
It boils down to this: Are you willing to be faithful? Are you willing to work? Are you willing to persevere to the end?
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit
Our God is One.
 See Matthew 25:14-30, Luke 19:12-27
 4 Kingdoms 5 in LXX/Orthodox Study Bible
 Early Fathers from the Philokalia, Faber & Faber 1954; The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian, Holy Transfiguration Monastery 1984; and On Ascetical Life, SVS Press 1990.
This homily was preached on Sunday, February 8, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois by Fr. Joseph Gleason.
Transcribed and edited by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services. Dormition Text Services offers full-service secretarial support – including transcription, editing, and publishing services – to Orthodox clergy and parish communities.