Desmond Tutu was once asked why he became an Anglican rather than joining some other denomination. He replied that in the days of apartheid, when a black person and a white person met while walking on a footpath, the black person was expected to step into the gutter to allow the white person to pass and nod their head as a gesture of respect. “One day” Tutu says, “when I was just a little boy, my mother and I were walking down the street when a tall white man, dressed in a black suit, came toward us. Before my mother and I could step off the sidewalk, as was expected of us, this man stepped off the sidewalk and, as my mother and I passed, tipped his hat in a gesture of respect to her! I was more than surprised at what had happened and I asked my mother, ‘Why did that white man do that?’ My mother explained, ‘He’s an Anglican priest. He’s a man of God, that’s why he did it.’ When she told me that he was an Anglican priest I decided there and then that I wanted to be an Anglican priest too. And what is more, I wanted to be a man of God.”
It is quite easy today for us to determine a person’s worth based on color of skin, the clothes they wear, level of education, size of house, income, and so on. Like the whites in South Africa during apartheid, they looked at the color of the skin and declared in their hearts, “I am worth more than you.” What struck Desmond Tutu so about the priest was the fact that the priest, by his actions said, “No. This is not true. We are equal.”
The parable of the generous landowner is curious in how it ends – a standoff. You can see the steward standing with hand extended offering the upset worker his denarii and the worker glaring back in his anger. Jesus does not tell us what happens next because he wants us to figure it out on our own. What we must figure out is that the parable is not about the amount of work an individual worker has done. Instead, the parable is about what the landowner and the steward are doing. The parable is about God the Father, God the Son, and the work they are accomplishing.
The landowner kept going to town looking for more workers, just as God the Father keeps coming to us, pursuing us – pursuing his children that we might return to him. The steward, Jesus, pays for each of us. He places that denarii, that coin in our hands and that coin is our salvation. Whether you come early in life or late, the same reward is made available to you. Why is God doing this? Because it is God’s desire that all return to Him.
As Paul states in his first letter to Timothy, “This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Or as Peter says in his second epistle, the Lord “is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.” We have this tendency to judge others by how we perceive their worth. God, on the other hand, sees all as his beloved children and he desires that all should be saved. To what extent will God go to save His children? You need only to look to the cross to know the answer.