Our reading for this week is called either the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard or the Parable of the Generous Employer. It’s a scene that would have been familiar to the people of that day and age. The parable starts out in an ordinary fashion. Day laborers were hired for the harvest with a pre-arranged agreement regarding how much they would receive for their work. But things quickly took an unusual turn. Additional laborers were hired throughout the day with the simple agreement that everyone would receive what is “right.” And when the day was done, the laborers who came at the very last hour received the same amount as those who began working at the beginning of the day.
This is one of those parables that can be jolting to those of us who are especially devoted to that which is “fair.” While no one would begrudge the landowner the right to pay the latecomers generously, it only seems fair that the early birds would also get a bonus! Right?!? This parable invites us to contemplate the nature of God’s grace – a grace that can never be calculated or expected – and to wrestle, once again, with the surprising, topsy-turvy, upside down nature of God’s realm. The first shall be last and the last shall be first.
I hope you’ll join us on Sunday for our livestream worship at 9:00. Please know that all are welcome to join the Wednesday Bible Study that reviews the scripture and sermon topic from the previous Sunday and reflects on the questions that are listed below. If you’re interested in joining us from 11:30 to 12:30 on Wednesdays, please notify the church office or Pastor Lori and we’ll send you the Zoom link. Drop-ins are welcome! Looking forward to being together on Sunday!
Matthew 20:1-16 (CEB)
“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. After he agreed with the workers to pay them a denarion, he sent them into his vineyard.
“Then he went out around nine in the morning and saw others standing around the marketplace doing nothing. He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I’ll pay you whatever is right.’ And they went.
“Again around noon and then at three in the afternoon, he did the same thing. Around five in the afternoon he went and found others standing around, and he said to them, ‘Why are you just standing around here doing nothing all day long?’
“‘Because nobody has hired us,’ they replied.
“He responded, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’
“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the workers and give them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and moving on finally to the first.’ When those who were hired at five in the afternoon came, each one received a denarion. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more. But each of them also received a denarion. When they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, ‘These who were hired last worked one hour, and they received the same pay as we did even though we had to work the whole day in the hot sun.’
“But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I did you no wrong. Didn’t I agree to pay you a denarion? Take what belongs to you and go. I want to give to this one who was hired last the same as I give to you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with what belongs to me? Or are you resentful because I’m generous?’ So those who are last will be first. And those who are first will be last.”
Consider these questions:
- What is your initial response to the action of the landowner? Would you be among the grumblers? What would you say?
- Who do you identify with in this parable? For what reasons?
- What has been your experience of receiving God’s grace? Has that impacted how you understand God’s grace for others?