Psalm 23.1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6 Resp. 1
What the landowner does would illegal today. He would not be free to pay his employees in such an unjust fashion. The landowner says that he is being generous, which means that he considers the pay a gift, but pay is pay and a gift is a gift. So no one really earned their daily wage. It was a free gift just for showing up, like the grace of God. We cannot earn grace, not in the sense that we could turn to God and say, “You owe me.” The landowner does not pay the daily wage to those who did not work at all, but anyone who worked even a little receives the same generous gift.
The landowner assures the workers, “My friend, I am not cheating you.” It is he who is in danger of being cheated. Once people find out that he pays a day’s wage for one hour’s work, who will come early the next morning? But he is willing to be cheated by those who only work a very little. If we are trying to get by each day with the least amount of effort that is required of a Christian, God will accept that and pay us our daily wage. If we are trying to work ever so hard, impress God, and earn more grace than the next guy, God will accept that and pay us our daily wage. And he will give it to us last, just to show us that our efforts did not earn one more cent than the others.
If we only do a very little for God, he will give us a full measure of grace, so some people ask, why should we do more? Why should we love our neighbor more than we have to? Why should we pray more than we have to? Because we can. Because working in the vineyard of the Lord is the point, not the daily wage. What if we learned to love work, to love prayer, to love serving God, to love loving our neighbor? Eventually we stop being a day laborer and become a son or daughter who does not need to be recruited every morning and paid every evening. When God comes with a reward for us, it will not be like wages at the end of a day, but like a gift from a loving father to his child, completely unearned.