Matthew 20: 1 – 16
Lord, your Word is a tree of life that offers blessed fruit in abundance. Like the rock gushing water in the desert it is for each of us a refreshing fountain. “All ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink.”
“1Jesus told this parable to his disciples; ‘The kingdom of heaven is like…”
At first glance this is a very ordinary opening statement. Only a few verses earlier Peter asked Jesus, “We have given up everything and followed you. What will there be for us?” Do not be too hard on Peter. Many of us live our lives thinking that we can earn ‘eternal life’ by our good works. Jesus tells Peter, “You will inherit eternal life”. It is a free gift offered to all of us.
As Jesus’ disciples, we too should take note.
“16 Thus the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
These words appear before and immediately after today’s reading. In other words we have to read the parable in the light of this wisdom saying. The last in society are the nobodies and the first are people of status. Jesus tells us that social standing has no place in the kingdom. Why?
Who makes up the “kingdom of heaven / God?” God and us. This is a surprising combination. We have been given the assurance that we are children, Sons and Daughters, of God. “God created humanity in his image; in the divine image he created them; male and female he created them.” (Gen 1: 27) We are called to resemble God in our thinking and dealings with one another. Jesus has given us an example to follow. Have we adopted his values and thinking?
Time to read Mt 20: 1 – 16. Please note that text is divided into four parts.
Work in the vineyard. Verses 1 – 7
Pay time Verses 8 – 11a
A false image of God Verse 11b – 14a
True God Verses 14b – 16
Work in the vineyard.
The land owner needs many workers. He goes to the market place five times and employs everybody who is there. The first are offered the standard wage of one denarius. They receive enough to keep their family. In scripture “Justice” means that God will give us what we need, not what, we or others, think we deserve. The workers are promised what they need.
The first surprise is when the late-comers receive one denarius. Clearly God does not think as we do!
“Seek the Lord while he may be found, call him while he is near. Turn to the Lord for mercy; to our God, who is generous in forgiving. For my thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.” (Is 55: 6 – 9)
False image of God
“The men who came last,” they said, “have done only one hour, and you have treated them the same as us ..!”
“How unfair,” we are inclined to say! Peter also thought as we do. We have a long way to go to start thinking the way God does. In spite of this complaint the landowner does not get annoyed. The men, in his eyes, have gone from being employees to “My Friend”.
Listen carefully to the landowner’s reply;
“My Friend, I choose to pay the last-comer as much as I pay you.
15Have I no right to do what I like with my own?
Why be envious because I am generous?”
* * * * * *
The people Jesus met had been taught that God was distant, severe, demanding the observance of many laws, rewarding the good according to their merits and punishing others according to their guilt.
“That is not correct” says Jesus. “I believe God is a loving Father; a good and faithful God who calls everyone of us, ‘Friend’. He goes even further, making us his Sons and Daughters and promising that we will all inherit eternal life. Our God generously gives us all that we need.” This is the TRUE GOD.
No wonder Jesus used a parable. His teaching directly contradicted that of the Priests, Scribes and Pharisees. That was very dangerous indeed – one does not contradict the ‘authorities’.
“I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children. Come to me, all you who labour and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.” (Mt 11: 25 – 30)