Matthew 20:8-16 (The Message)
The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
8"When the day's work was over, the owner of the vineyard instructed his foreman, 'Call the workers in and pay them their wages. Start with the last hired and go on to the first.'
9-12"Those hired at five o'clock came up and were each given a dollar. When those who were hired first saw that, they assumed they would get far more. But they got the same, each of them one dollar. Taking the dollar, they groused angrily to the manager, 'These last workers put in only one easy hour, and you just made them equal to us, who slaved all day under a scorching sun.'
13-15"He replied to the one speaking for the rest, 'Friend, I haven't been unfair. We agreed on the wage of a dollar, didn't we? So take it and go. I decided to give to the one who came last the same as you. Can't I do what I want with my own money? Are you going to get stingy because I am generous?'
16"Here it is again, the Great Reversal: many of the first ending up last, and the last first."
Who hasn't read this story in Matthew 20 and sympathized with the workers who slaved all day in the hot sun? On the surface this seems like a puzzling parable. Not only did the foreman scandalize those who'd worked all day by paying those hired at the end the same amount, but he added insult to injury by paying them first!
This parable is a teaching about grace; "unmerited favour;" God's generosity to us who are so undeserving. The workers who started first, and worked all day for an expected wage, could represent those who lived under the "law." The anger of the first group of workers, certainly mirrors the anger of the Pharisees towards Jesus. It would explain their scandal at his eating, drinking and generally "hanging out with," people thought of as "sinners". Perhaps they were jealous that grace could be so freely given, when they had been working so hard at keeping rules and regulations. If their identity and self esteem was so tied up in their hard work, what did this mean to them?
I'm reminded of the story in Luke 15 (11-32) of the Prodigal Son and the "dutiful" elder brother. The elder brother was outraged at the feast that was given to the son who returned from a life of waste and wild living.
God's love is scandalously extravagant; undeserved by us. These stories tell us that we are to celebrate that we were lost, but now we're found!
Luke 15:31-32 (New International Version)
New International Version (NIV)
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society
31" 'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' "