Labour in the Lord's vineyard
“I tell you that the Kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to the people who will produce its fruit.” Matt 21:43
A long time ago in a land far away, I once worked in a very bad hospital. It had a very bad reputation and patients didn’t want to go there. The staff were always bickering, angry, rude to the patients. Many people came to work late; some didn’t come at all; some came drunk. As a result, the patients just did not get a good service. Equipment never worked. When you tried to call somebody to repair it, they weren’t there; or they couldn’t come; or they just wouldn’t do the work. The pharmacy didn’t have most of the medicine it was supposed to have. So when you tried to get medicines for your patients, they were never available, or only available if the patient’s family bribed the staff. The laboratory only had a few tests that they would do, even though they had equipment and materials for many more. The whole place was dirty, untidy, poorly cared for. It was a mess!
Then one day, the management called a meeting. It was a tense horrible meeting. They explained that because of the very poor performance of the hospital, it was in danger of being closed in about six months time. If that happened, everyone – from the top management to the lowest of the workers - would lose their jobs. Everyone went home depressed and miserable.
And overnight the hospital changed. First there was a change in the attitude of the staff - they didn’t like to work, but they did like getting paid at the end of the month. Very suddenly, people started coming to work on time, staying their full hours, working hard and cheerfully. And almost immediately the whole atmosphere in the hospital changed. People were co-operative. Pieces of equipment almost always seemed to be working when you needed them. Clinics worked efficiently. The pharmacy was well stocked. The laboratory did all its tests. And the staff were extremely polite to the patients. And – as everyone noticed – people who would have died in the old hospital started to survive.
Six months later, the management called another meeting. They said that the hospital had come within three days of closure. But now it had revived and could continue. We had a great celebration and then we all went home.
So, what happened next?
Like most people, I expected the hospital to go back to being the way it was. The staff had made a huge effort – for one reason alone – to save their own jobs. Now that they had saved them, most people would think they had no reason to carry on working so hard. But they did. And the reason they did is because they had discovered that they actually liked the feeling of being good workers in a good hospital with a good reputation. They had known what it was like to be a bad hospital. Now they knew what it was like to be a good hospital. They knew exactly what it had taken to make the hospital good. And it was a price they were prepared to go on paying.
They had learned just in time what their lives as hospital workers were about.
They had learned just in time that a hospital exists to give a service to people.
If it does not give that service then it ceases to have any reason for existing.
We normally like to think of ourselves as the new tenants of the vineyard who have taken over from the old tenants – the scribes and Pharisees - who failed to produce its fruit. That is true. But in taking over that inheritance we have also taken over that responsibility. And Harvest is our time for reflecting on how much we really are producing his fruit. Ask: what is my role in the Lord’s vineyard? What part do I have play in building God’s kingdom in the world?
If I really believe that I have put Christ at the centre of my life, then this is the day I must ask myself;
• What have I done in Christ?
• What am I doing in Christ?
• What shall I do in Christ?
Because if we do not, the vineyard will be taken from us too and given to someone else.