Jump Start # 3029
Matthew 20:6-7 “And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing and he said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day long?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You too go into the vineyard.’”
Our verse today comes from the powerful story of the laborers in the vineyard. Throughout the day the laborers were hired to pick grapes. With an hour left in the day, “the eleventh hour,” our verse is found. This is not about death-bed repentance. The idea of someone coming to the Lord at the last minutes before he dies is a popular explanation of this passage. No one in this story dies. This parable is about the generosity of God. The last, who did so little, were made equal to the first, who did so much. The first shall be last and the last shall be first ends the chapter before and also, ends this story. Twice Jesus says that.
The first, very likely, were the apostles. They bore the hardships that few every witnessed. Going places where they were the only believers, hunted down and persecuted harshly, they literally wore themselves out for the Lord. Along came others after them. People like Timothy, Titus, Apollos. Then others after those. On and on, down to you and I. We get up on a nice Sunday morning, drive to a fancy church building where we will be singing hymns projected on a screen, eating the Lord’s Supper that is ready, listening to a preacher with a sermon, around us are deacons serving and shepherds leading the flock. Class material is printed. Things are projected up on the screen for us to see. All of us having our own Bibles. Life is good. It wasn’t that way for those first few workers. And, when this life is over, the eleventh hour folks receive the same as the first hour laborers. Sure doesn’t seem right, nor fair. But, that’s the goodness of God’s heart.
Our verse is about the last laborers. It’s the eleventh hour, which would be five o’clock Jewish time. The day was almost over. They have been idle all day. No one has picked them. Imagine standing around for eleven hours. That’s a long time, a very long time. Why not just go home? If they did, there was no hope of making any money. Going home meant giving up. Going home means your family won’t eat that day. These workers stuck around all day hoping. They were hoping someone would come and use them.
Now, some lessons for us.
First, some are idle because that’s the way they want to be. One of the common things we hear these days are, “Where are all the workers?” Every place seems to have a “Now hiring” sign. I saw one fast food place that said, “Work today. Get paid tomorrow.” No waiting two weeks to get your check. Next day. Now, idleness in the work force is an economic problem and something the government needs to look into. Idleness in the kingdom is far worse. And, this is something that isn’t addressed very often. We complain because tables in restaurants are empty, yet one has to wait 45 minutes before they are seated. Why? Not enough workers. Yet, how many times within a year is the call made from the pulpit that we need teachers for the next quarter and everyone looks down at the floor. Not me. Not me, either. And, what often happens, is the same worn out, tired, needing a break teachers have to teach. Why? Because others are standing idle. The call is made, but they don’t answer. We need more shepherds. Not me, is the reply. Not ready, is the common answer. Could it be that some are idle and they just want it to be that way. Equipping the saints to serve is what God wants us to do. However, it does little good, when people have made up their minds, I’m not going to teach. I’m not going to pitch in. I’m not going to do anything.
Second, some may be idle because they are holding out for something big. And, while they wait and wait, the little things are left undone. Found in the qualities for a deacon is those that have proven themselves. They have already shown themselves to be trustworthy, dependable and useable. Don’t rely upon the guy who has a quick excuse. Don’t count on the one who is all talk and no action. Before anyone will call upon you for something big, show them that you can do something little.
Third, some are idle because they have convinced themselves that they cannot do anything. Less than one talent, they believe they have no talent. They see what others can do and they quickly admit that they can’t do those things. So, rather than finding what they can do, they remain idle. The way to overcome this is to stop comparing yourself with others. Everyone can do something. Find what you are good at. Try somethings. If public worship, public teaching isn’t in your bag of talents, find ways to encourage, support and help behind the scenes. Be one who invites. Be one who greets. Be one who is always there. Be one who smiles. Be one who sends the cards. Be one who takes food or mails gift cards. Be the one who makes the place look nice and tidy. Be the one who pulls the weeds. Be the one who shovels snow. Be the one who passes out class material. You can do something, because God made you. It’s easy to hide behind our excuses, but idleness is not helping anyone.
Fourth, some are idle because they believe the Lord can’t use them and doesn’t need them. We need to stop whining, crying and attending every pity party we throw. The prophet said, “Here am I. Send me.” Caleb said, “Give me this mountain.” The Lord said, “Go unto the world.” Mary anointed Jesus. She did what she could. Dorcus made garments for the disciples. Barnabas encouraged. Timothy brought books. A boy shared his snack that was used to feed the multitudes. Wealthy women financed the Lord and the apostles. Rahab hid the spies. Simon carried the Lord’s cross. Nicodemus took the Lord off the cross. Joseph offered his tomb for Jesus. Moments in time. People rising up. People speaking out. People drawing a line. People doing what they could. And, yes, the Lord needs you. You have a network of family and friends. You have talent. You have opportunities. Don’t be standing idle all day long.
Interestingly, in our passage, as soon as the idle worker was called, he went. He wasn’t idle after he was chosen. Is that you? Are you still on the sidelines of faith? Are you watching others but you remain idle? How are you going to answer the Lord’s question, “Why have you been standing here idle?” Are you going to hide behind your age? I’m too young. I’m too old. Are you going to hide behind your family? I’m too busy. Are you going to hide behind work? I’ve covered up at work. Or, I’m in school. Or, I’m single. Or, I’m about to retire. Or, I have aging parents to take care of. Or, I like to travel.
Why are you standing idle all day long? The Lord wants to know. The church wants to know. Isn’t time for you to pick up your basket and head to the vineyard?