Day 185 | Sunday, 20 September 2020
The assigned scripture lessons for this the 16th Sunday after Pentecost are: Exodus 16:2-15; Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45; or Psalm 78; Philippians 1:21-30 and Matthew 20:1-16.
Matthew 20:1-16 The Message
1 "God's kingdom is like an estate manager who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard.
2 They agreed on a wage of a dollar a day, and went to work.
3 "Later, about nine o'clock, the manager saw some other men hanging around the town square unemployed.
4 He told them to go to work in his vineyard and he would pay them a fair wage.
5 They went.
6 At five o'clock he went back and found still others standing around. He said, 'Why are you standing around all day doing nothing?
7 ' "They said, 'Because no one hired us.' "He told them to go to work in his vineyard.
8 "When the day's work was over, the owner of the vineyard instructed his foreman, 'Call the workers in and pay them their wages. Start with the last hired and go on to the first.'
9 "Those hired at five o'clock came up and were each given a dollar.
10 When those who were hired first saw that, they assumed they would get far more. But they got the same, each of them one dollar.
11 Taking the dollar, they groused angrily to the manager,
12 'These last workers put in only one easy hour, and you just made them equal to us, who slaved all day under a scorching sun.'
13 "He replied to the one speaking for the rest, 'Friend, I haven't been unfair. We agreed on the wage of a dollar, didn't we?
14 So take it and go. I decided to give to the one who came last the same as you.
15 Can't I do what I want with my own money? Are you going to get stingy because I am generous?'
16 "Here it is again, the Great Reversal: many of the first ending up last, and the last first."
What is your first reaction after reading this parable?
Jesus is ushering in a new age from that of the Pharisees and Sadducees who are the keepers of the Law and very legalistic about how things should be interpreted. This is just one of Jesus’s parables that makes one’s head spin.
Let’s title this parable “Astonished by Grace.” “It provides a glimpse of the grace which is determinative in the New Age, and in so doing, it portrays the threat which grace represents to our conventional expectations.” (The Parables of Jesus: Glimpses of the New Age by Neal F. Fisher, pp 74-75.)
In most other translations, the wage is one denarius for a 12 hour day. That would have been a generous wage in that time. Here we have the last will be first concept. Those who were hired last were paid first. Those hired first were watching and probably raising their expectations for a higher wage but that was not to be. So, naturally they began to complain – this was just not fair. The employer responds by asking – Can’t I do what I want with my own money? Why should they begrudge him his generosity?
“The question was no longer why the employer distributed that which was his as he did; rather the question was why they begrudged him the right to do with his money what he out of sheer goodness chose to do.” Ibid p 75
We try to wrap our minds around God’s amazing grace and here it is – sheer incalculable grace at work. When the Pharisees understood this parable, they were incensed. Afterall, they had invested their entire lives to serious study of the Law. Here, those who walk into the Kingdom at the last minute become equal in status. WOW! Not fair.
“Perhaps only those who know that they cannot measure up are prepared to hear of grace as good news. To have faith is to embrace this possibility and to discover grace as hope and vindication for our lives. Those who believe that they have secured the basis for such vindication elsewhere will likely view this as offense and disruption.” Ibid p 77
Holy God, it is your grace to extend in any way you choose. Why should we object? Lord, hear our prayers.