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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Today’s Scripture Reading | Matthew 20:1–16

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 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.” (NRSV)

Reflection
Ooh, this parable makes me mad. I don’t know about you, but I identify with those angry vineyard workers and their “grumbling” there at the end: “you have made them equal to us.” It’s. Not. Fair.

The complaint is completely legitimate. In what world does it make any kind of sense to compensate somebody who worked one hour the same as someone who worked ten or twelve hours at the same task? What company would level the pay of those who endure long, hot labor and those who drop in for a cool hour at the end of the day? Good luck finding good help once word gets out.

And yet (don’t parables always come with an “and yet?”), those who worked all day got paid what they were promised. The largesse the landowner dispenses to the last-hired workers takes nothing away from the first-hired. It only feels like it does.

Grace and mercy aren’t fair. They are God’s way of being God among those of us who keep careful tabulations of merit and who would direct God where and how God must reward those who didn’t earn what we earned.

Grace’s response to those of us offended by this parable is simple: “the last will be first and the first will be last.” Striving as we do to be first in so many things (education, work, defense, love), these words are offensive. It takes a renewed vision to see ourselves as those who have been given what we didn’t actually earn and what can only ever be a gift.

Prayer
Gracious God, so direct our minds to the mercy and grace you spread abroad in our lives that we meet its occasion in others’ lives with gratitude and joy and never with contempt. In all we do, make grace, not fairness, the object of our striving and of our praise. Amen.

Written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry


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