Proper 20, Year A: Matthew 20:1-16: The Last First

Vineyards on a hill overlooking the Mosel river

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 20, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

In this passage, Jesus tells a parable about a landowner who hires people to work in his vineyard.

He hires some first thing in the morning, some more around lunchtime, and more in the late afternoon. Then when the day is done, he has them line up to be paid, starting with those hired last. He ends up paying them all the same amount, even those who had only worked a short time.  It should come as no surprise that those who started first thing in the morning complained that they were paid no more than those who worked only an hour. But the landowner insists he is being fair–he paid them exactly what he had offered them when he hired them in the morning. He says he can do what he wants with his money and they shouldn’t be jealous because of his generosity.

Jesus ends by saying, “So those who are last now will be first in the future. And those who are first now will be last in the future.”

This story seems pretty easy to understand. God’s grace extends to those who do very little to “earn” it (that’s why it’s grace) as well as to those who work day and night to serve him. The true follower of Christ does not seek to be first but serves in love. The grumpy first-comers probably represent the religious leaders who opposed Jesus and didn’t understand grace. They promoted themselves and their own goodness, failing to comprehend the love of God extending to the lowest people.

May we spend our days serving and not seeking to be first.

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