If the parable of the workers presents God’s grace in a story with surprising social contours, it fits well with what precedes it. In Matthew 19, Jesus overturns expectations about family and property, reducing the absolute rights of men and elevating vulnerable children to be proprietors of God’s reign. He advises a successful young man seeking eternal life to sell his goods and follow him, since wealth is an obstacle to God’s reign. His disciples protest repeatedly, but the final verse says it all: “Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first” (Matt. 19:30).
The parable of the workers embodies this drastic proverb but probes deeper still into the nature of justice and equity. The landowner promises the workers hired first, “I will pay you whatever is right,” and when they complain replies, “I am doing you no wrong.” It may feel unfair. Yet for Jesus, what is right is what is generous, not what balances out.
The first-hired also complain, “You have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day.” Perhaps the landowner knows that the workers hired later have also borne a burden: anxiety over whether they will find work to feed their families. The landowner then addresses a complaining worker as “friend,” implying that they are socially comparable, something a landowner and a day laborer never could be.
Those who labored long are treated as equal both to those who were hired last and to their rich employer. This strange justice reflects God’s enormous grace. We are not merely servants but friends, companions of God—and we are all friends, on an equal footing, whatever our spiritual and moral achievements.
Loving God, your generosity goes beyond what we expect or desire. Help us rejoice that you call us friends, and help us act as friends to all. 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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