I.Theme – Grace to all who ask. However, we often covet God’s power to forgive and God’s control over who is forgiven and how.
"Late Arriving Workers" – Jesus Mafa (1973)
The lectionary readings are here or individually:
Old Testament – Jonah 3:10-4:11
Psalm – Psalm 145:1-8 Page 801, BCP
Epistle –Philippians 1:21-30
Gospel – Matthew 20:1-16
The scriptures focus on God’s gift of grace in the Old Testament and Gospel readings. We should not covet it or second guess and we may wait on the promise. As the Psalm emphasizes, praise God’”wonderous works” and celebrate the mercy, compassion and goodness of God.
There is a sense of unity that should prevail as Paul stresses in the Epistle to the Philippians. They are bound together with Paul in a mutually supportive relationship — they share his conflict and suffering, because their entire struggle is a sharing in the sufferings of Christ. They are to live as free citizens — not of Rome, but of God’s coming rule on earth and stand firm in the face of adversity and to be loving and unselfish in their behavior towards one another.
In the Old Testament reading, Jonah, has run away to avoid delivering the message of forgiveness that God has sent him to proclaim. Jonah complains about God giving grace to those in Ninevah "for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing," and surely this cannot be for them? Jonah regarded God’s "steadfastness" and grace as the unique, covenantal possession of Israel. However, it was not unthinkable that God would "change his mind" with regard to the nations.
Ancient Nineveh was well known for its lawlessness and violence. Nineveh was the capital of Israel’s greatest enemy, Assyria. Assyria would later depose Israel sending them to Babylonia.
Yet Nineveh also represents second chances to hear and obey the Lord. However, Jonah becomes angry, deserts Ninevah . God then caused tree to grow over Jonah but then sent a worm to attack the bush and then sent the heat and wind against Jonah.
In the Gospel’s parable of the workers in the vineyard, Jesus likens the kingdom of heaven to a foreman who hired laborers early in the morning, then successively throughout the day at the third, sixth, ninth, and eleventh hours. A twelve-hour day of manual labor, with the "burden of the work and the heat of the day" is a long day. That evening the foreman settled accounts, paying those who had worked a meager one hour the same as those who had worked twelve hours.
The repeated visits to the marketplace by the landowner to look for laborers is a warning to anticipate some other unexpected behavior from him. He is looking for the many to bring into the kingdom. In the Gospel, grace comes to those who work many or few hours. God’s grace is open to all.
For Jesus the parable teaches that the gift of eternal life is not the reward of human merit, but a free gift of divine grace. The sacrifices of the followers of Jesus will be honored by God, but the reward will so far outstrip the sacrifice that it can only be called sheer grace, something God gives us or brings about in our lives that we cannot earn or bring about on our own steam.
In an article in the The Chautauqan Daily, lecturer Amy-Jill Levine writes:
"Many of the people in Jesus’ audience would have been day laborers and identified with the people in the story.
"Equal wages for workers, no matter what time of day they were hired, was not an unfamiliar aspect to Jewish law.
"The shock of the parable so far is not that everybody was paid equally; it’s how they were paid and the expectation that the first hired would actually receive more,” Levine said.
“The problem is not about economics; it’s about social relations,” Levine said. “They’re thinking in terms of limited good. … They’re thinking in terms of what they think is fair, but the landowner is thinking in terms of what he thinks is just.”
"..perhaps the parable helps us redefine our sense of what good life, abundant living, means. We might have thought that the most important thing in life is to be fair, which means to be impartial. But perhaps the more important criterion is to be generous.”
The parable is part of the great reversal – first will be last and the last will be first.
Those who begrudge the landowners generosity were those who felt that they had earned what they received, rather than see their work and wages as gifts. The wages at stake (even at the moment of Jesus’ first telling of the parable) are not actual daily wages for vineyard-laborers, but forgiveness, life, and salvation for believers.
The scandal of this parable is that we are all equal recipients of God’s gifts. The scandal of our faith is that we are often covetous and jealous when God’s gifts of forgiveness and life are given to other in equal measure.
The reversal saying is also a word of challenge to the disciples in their attitudes toward women and children, and other "unimportant" people with whom Jesus chooses to mingle and eat, whom he heals and restores. The disciples could be among the last.
The disciples, hearing this strange saying about reversal of status probably identified with the last who would become first. But Jesus was using the saying to caution them that, in a spiritual sense, they are in danger of becoming the first who would be last. Jesus’ followers are to beware of spiritual arrogance that makes them the self-appointed elite of others of lower degree.