If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Genesis 21, Matthew 20, Nehemiah 10, Acts 20. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Matthew 20:1-16.
Jesus told some very odd stories and Matthew 20:1-16 contains one of them. It started out unsurprisingly enough: A farmer needed harvesters for his vineyard. He went where the unemployed workers hung out and hired a bunch of them. They agreed to work all day for 1 denarius. That was the standard amount paid for one day’s work in Jesus’ time. At noon, he hired more guys; their wage was ambiguous: “whatever is right” (v. 4). That equals more than zero, so they agreed. The same thing happened at 3 p.m. At 5 p.m., he hired even more guys. A few hours later as darkness fell, each worker was paid. The farmer instructed his foreman to start with the last guys in, pay them first, and pay the first guys last. The foreman paid 1 denarius to the guys who started working at 5. In other words, they made a full day’s wage for one hour of work. Nice work if you can get it!
The guys hired at 3 got their denarius, and so did the guys who clocked in at noon. The guys who had worked all day eagerly looked forward to their paychecks. They reasoned: “This crazy landowner is paying a day’s wage to guys who worked for 1 hour; how much will he pay for those of us who worked 8 hours?” The answer: 1 denarius, just as they had agreed in the morning. In other words, they were paid a fair wage with no bonus money for working all day.
Although this is what they had agreed to from the beginning, they were unhappy. Even though it was a fair wage for a fair day’s work and even though they had agreed to this pay in advance, they felt it was unfair to pay the last workers as much as the first workers made (v. 12). When they complained about these unfair labor practices, the farmer told them, “Hey, it’s my money! I can do with it whatever I want and what I want is to be crazy generous to those who only worked an hour.” Jesus concluded in verse 16 by saying, “So the last will be first and the first will be last” (v. 16).
This is a parable about justice and generosity. It is a parable about God and, specifically, how he treats people in his kingdom. What do you think the point of this story was for them and is for us? Share with us in the comments.
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