The parable of the workers in the vineyard appears to take place in the familiar world of workers, bosses, and paychecks—including the perhaps all-too-familiar world of subsistence wages. But don’t let appearances fool you! Rather than reflecting ordinary everyday life, this story is a strange one—like the parable of the mustard seed that impossibly becomes a tree or the ludicrous shepherd who leaves ninety-nine sheep to seek one. (See Luke 13:18-19; 15:3-7.)
This parable seems to make no earthly sense. We may feel that the workers who started early in the day are right to be aggrieved. We wonder whether any employer would act like this landowner—certainly none who ever wanted to get a full day’s work from anyone again!
We can see in the landowner’s strange behavior a representation of the unearned grace of God that Jesus preaches. His mission accepts many who appear to repent only at the very last minute. Yesterday they were prostitutes and tax collectors; today Jesus opens the door to the reign of God to them. Why should they get equal treatment with the faithful and diligent, with those who have spent long lives “seeking the reign of God and God’s justice” (Matt. 6:33, ap)?
Yet Jesus tells these faithful ones (could they be you and me?): “Relax. Be glad that the God you have served so well is generous” (ap). Like the prodigal son (see Luke 15:11-32), this parable is addressed not to sinners to urge them to repentance but to good people to urge them to join with God in joyous generosity. Jesus’ message of unmerited kindness is the gospel Paul urges us to live worthily of.
Generous God, whether over a long life or starting just now, we are grateful that we are able to serve you alongside others whom you love. Amen.
The psalmist recounts many of God’s glorious deeds. The escape from Egypt features prominently, including the Exodus story we are reading this week. God knows that the people need food and provides both meat and bread. Unfortunately, the people do not have the perspective of the psalmist, so God’s miraculous provision does not stop their grumbling. In Philippians, Paul reflects on Christian suffering. Although he would rather be with the Lord, he endures suffering so that he may help others. Other believers should expect to suffer as well. Jesus tells a parable about a landowner. No matter what time the workers go out, they are all equally paid. Likewise, those who follow Jesus their entire lives and those who meet the Lord late in life will partake equally in glory.
Read Exodus 16:2-15. When have you been confident of God’s love and presence? When have you been uncertain?
Read Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45. When do you smooth over the “bumps” in the stories of your family, your church, or your faith? When is it important to recount the complaining or mistakes along the way?
Read Philippians 1:21-30. When has the “good news to the poor” challenged you? When you feel challenged by it, how do you seek to live “worthy of the gospel”?
Read Matthew 20:1-16. How does Jesus’ idea of equality surprise you? How might a posture of generosity change your concept of fairness?
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