Milkweed and Cockleburs

Matthew 20:6b “He asked them, “Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?”

Observation: Jesus’ question comes early in the parable of workers in the vineyard. The landowner had hired workmen early in the day for a fair wage. Then, apparently needing more workers, he had gone again at the third, sixth, ninth and eleventh hours to hire still more at the same daily rate promised the original hires. His payment of identical wages for very dissimilar labor tested the hearts of those hired first.

Application: The story is a familiar one, and its ending point an important test of both my heart and that of the Jews who had been originally chosen by God. Yet I am captured by the question, “Why have you been standing here all day doing nothing?” In verse 3 Jesus said the landowner “saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing.” Again in verse 6 he “found still others standing around.”

Why this seemingly critical evaluation of how the unemployed were described? The report could as well have read that the men were in the marketplace seeking work, but instead there is a decidedly pointed tilt toward emphasizing their shiftlessness. The Lord’s criticism of this posture speaks clearly of His evaluation of how they were spending their time. In the next chapter comes reinforcement of the same theme, this time applied to an unproductive fig tree. Jesus’ hunger caused Him to approach a fig tree only to find it barren of fruit, so He addressed the tree, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered (Matthew 21:18–19).

From all this it seems clear that I ought to be productively engaged. After all, was I not created to work? Didn’t God intend from the beginning that I work in the garden? Ummm, no, that was a trick question. Such fleshly reasoning can creep in to steer me away from God’s best.

I was created for fellowship with God, not to pull weeds in an already perfect garden. I was created for intimacy. His design of me was that I would press in to know Him, to love Him, to enjoy His presence. At the end of the day it isn’t His evaluation of my straight-as-an-arrow furrows that will bless Him, nor His survey of land kept free of milkweed and cockleburs. His evaluation of me will turn on one thing only: like the fig tree, has my life produced what He intended, or have I spent my days laboring in sweaty pursuit of lesser ends? Have I pressed into relationship with Him, or settled for the world’s affirmation of my success?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I don’t want Your evaluation of me to ever be that I was standing around doing nothing. No matter the work of my hands, help me to keep my mind, will and emotions fully focused upon You.

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