Proper 20, Year A
Scripture: Matthew 20:1-16
This parable appears in the section of Matthew where those around Jesus are questioning him about everything. As Jesus continues his ministry and the disciples are witnessing his great works, they keep coming to him with questions about taxes, who is the greatest in Heaven, forgiveness, divorce, and how to inherit eternal life. The disciples are trying to figure out this new world that they are experiencing through Jesus’ miracles, parables, and teachings. Just prior to our lesson today, the disciples have heard Jesus tell the rich young man that he must sell everything and give the money to the poor. They begin to wonder, “We have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Meaning, we have left our homes and our families, we have left behind what we know and love to follow you…what will we get in return?
So, Jesus tells them the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard. This is a difficult parable as there are many ways it can be read. It could be seen as unfair or pitting justice with grace. However we read it, this parable is about God’s generosity and God’s grace.
The writer of Matthew’s Gospel has sandwiched the story of the Laborers in the Vineyard with 19:30 (30But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.) and 20:16 (“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”) Clearly this is an important message for Matthew to get across. That there is a reversal of the way we assume things will be and we are playing by a new rulebook.
A good number of the children will have heard “The first will be last and the last will be first.” We don’t want them to think this is just about letting the last person in line go first or that they should always be last to receive a reward, but that this is about how much God loves them that it does not matter where they are in line or where they are finding God, but more that they are all a part of this together and we will all receive God’s amazing love and grace.