“Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous? So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (vv. 15-16)

Matthew 20:1-16 Sunday 21 September 2014


Jesus taught his disciples about the kingdom of heaven (verse 1)using parables. A parable is not so much a story but a riddle whichperplexes the listener. It contains a meaning which the listenerhas to wrestle out for themselves, and is designed not tocongratulate the listener on how well they are doing in the socialor religious status quo but to subvert their values. For examplethe recognition that in God's kingdom "the last will be first andthe first will be last" is at very least disturbing. Are we firstor last, and as soon as we come up with an answer does that reversethe situation?

The instinct of the disciples and those of us who have chosen tofollow Jesus is to want to know how to achieve an honourable placein the kingdom through our qualities, gifts, and hard work. Jesustold the parable of the labourers in the vineyard after aconversation with Peter, one of Jesus' disciples, wantedreassurance that he would be rewarded for the sacrifices he hadmade (Matthew 19:27-30). In the parable, thelandowner chose to generously provide wages for 'daily bread' inequal measure to everyone who worked in his vineyard, however longor short a time they had worked. Labourers, who had worked thereall day, thought this was unfair. They felt entitled to more money,a just reward for their labour. Jesus seemed to be suggesting thatentering the kingdom of heaven was a God's generous gift to alllabourers, whoever they were and there was nothing they could do toearn more reward. Whatever the kingdom of heaven was, it was notthe sort of place where they could compare themselves with others,or enter because of their hard work. God's ways are not ourways.

Jesus was criticised for spending his time with sinners andthose who had transgressed the Jewish law, rather than good Jews.In Matthew's church there were those who had been brought upaccording to the Jewish Law following in the tradition of manygenerations and non-Jews (Gentiles), who were newcomers on thescene in terms of the understanding of God's salvation (saving)plan. Jews found it difficult to accept Gentiles as equals. Theparable spoke into these divisions in Jesus' time and in Matthew'schurch.

To Ponder

  • Spend five minutes imagining a place within yourself where youlet go of all your striving for achievement, love, acceptance. Leta sense of peace and relief come over you when you realise thatbecause of God's generosity you are loved - warts and all - for whoyou are, regardless of anything you have done or do.
  • Think about a time in the last couple of days when you havereflected unconditional generosity to someone you have met; and atime when you have slipped into a judgemental, comparison mode.What triggered your behaviour in these different ways?
  • In what ways is it realistically possible to embody an idea of'equality' in our life together in Church, and how do we safeguardit without using some type of force?
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