Sunday 29 September 2013

Matthew 20:1-16 - Vineyard work

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In Matthew 20:1-16, Jesus uses a parable to put over an idea that seems unfair yet is not. The owner of the vineyard chooses to pay all workers the same whether they've laboured all day or just for a short time at the end of the day.

But as Jesus points out, the owner is within his rights, he can pay whatever he wishes to those starting late. Those who signed on early received the pay they'd contracted for. They had no reason to expect more.

As with all parables, this story reveals something significant about the kingdom of heaven. Telling these stories helped Jesus explain difficult ideas in ways that people would remember, even if they didn't always understand them fully.

Perhaps we should use stories more often ourselves. They don't have to be fiction with an underlying meaning like a parable. They might also be true stories based around events in our lives. Both parables and our own experiences can illuminate the hearts and minds of the people who hear them.

But why are stories so effective? I suspect it may simply be that stories capture our imagination. People will listen to a story when they might glaze over at the bare facts. And both parables and life examples are able to demonstrate how a principle works so that it may be reapplied in different circumstances.

Stories are useful when speaking to large groups of people, but they're also effective in one-on-one conversations. Try to accumulate a series of useful stories that you can draw on when the right occasions arise.

Here's a simple example from my own life, many years ago. I had missed the last bus home from Cheltenham so I decided to start walking. After some while, toiling up the hill to Seven Springs and with more than ten miles still to go it began raining, hard. A beat-up old Reliant Robin pulled over and offered me a lift, and during the twenty minute journey the driver told he me he was happy to be able to help me and he hoped I would help others in my turn whenever I had the chance.

That made quite an impression on me and I have never forgotten it. Somehow that simple experience helped me understand the grace and love of my heavenly Father who helps us when we need it and expects us to treat others in the same way. What had previously seemed no more than boring rules in a dusty old book suddenly came alive for me with great clarity.

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