Exodus 16:2-15 and Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45
Jonah 3:10-4:11 and Psalm 145:1-8
Peace be with you!
The society and culture has us thinking that the harder and longer we work the more we should be paid. To us, it seems fair – the more you put out, the more you should get in return. This is how we determined those who are hard-working and motivated and those who are lazy and just want a pay check.
But then we also live in a time where unemployment is at an all time high of 9.1% as of August 2011 (Division of Labor Force Statistics 2011). We all can name individuals who are struggling to provide shelter and food for their families. We understand the struggle [maybe not well…] these individuals are facing on a daily basis.
Maybe you are one of the individuals who is desperate to find a job. You are struggling to put food on the table for your two kids, and you have bill collectors calling daily. The bank is threatening to take the house back if you do not make a payment soon. If you could just get hired at one of the ten jobs you applied for, you can pay your bills and mortgage and put food on the table. If the economy would bounce back, maybe the companies would start hiring again. But do you do in the mean time?
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus tells the disciples the parable of the laborers. The landowner goes out early morning, mid-morning, early afternoon, and late afternoon to find laborers to work in his vineyard. When the day was over, the landowner told his manager to call in all the laborers and to give them what he was owed starting with the last hired group to the first group.
The manager gave the men in the last group the daily wage (Matthew 20:9). Then the manager gave the next groups of men the same daily wage as the last group. When the first group went to be paid, they thought they may get paid a little extra having worked longer the rest, but the manager paid the same daily wage (Matthew 20:10). The men in the first group felt slighted and grumbled against landowner (Matthew 20:11).
The landowner reminds the men in the first group that he paid them what they agree upon when he hired them (Matthew 20:2, 13). The landowner held up his end of the deal with them, and he just decided to pay all of the men the same daily wage no matter when he hired them, which is his right. By paying all the men the same daily wage, the landowner makes all the laborers equals (Matthew 20:12).
In Matthew 20:16, the landowner says, “The last shall be first, and the first shall be last.” The last group to get hired was the first to get paid, and the first to get hired was the last to be paid. Each group was made equal to the other groups by being paid the same daily wage – no more or no less. All are equal.
The parable demonstrates how God treats all of his children as equals – he favors no one [well…maybe Jesus]. No matter if we have been Christians our whole lives or if we become Christians the last second of our lives, we are welcomed into God’s kingdom just the same. Karl Jacobson, an assistant professor of Religion at Augsburg College, writes,
“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.” (Jacobson 2011).
God is gracious beyond our imagination. We are so wrapped up in “what is fair” that we miss the fact that God loves all of us equally. We missed God’s forgiveness is for everyone – the individual who steals gum and the individual who murders his neighbor. We are all sinners and saints at the same time. So the first shall be last, and the last shall be first.
Thanks be to God! [Because we all know if I would not get into heaven if I had to be first.]
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for treating us all as equals. Help us to remember we are no better than the individual next to us. Thank you for your unique definition of justice and fairness. Amen.
Division of Labor Force Statistics. Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survery. September 7, 2011. http://www.bls.gov/cps/ (accessed September 14, 2011).
Jacobson, Karl. Matthew 20:1-16. September 11, 2011. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?tab=1&alt=1 (accessed September 15, 2011).
Please feel free to answer the reflective questions through comments. Please agree to disagree and be respectable to each other. Please take a moment, if you have not already, to sign the covenant. You can answer all or just one of the questions.
1. Define justice and fairness.
2. What does it mean to be first?
3. What does it mean to be last?
4. How do we treat each other as equals?