18 September 2011 // All Nations Church // Huntsville, AL
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out at nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
The Gospel according to Matthew; Chapter 20, verses 1-16
When we come to this passage, we think we already have an idea of what it is saying. When we come to it, we are already on God’s side. We already assume the landowner is God — and that means he has to be right, doesn’t it? We have heard Jesus teach so many times through the Gospels that we automatically assume we understand what the parables have to say. When we read, we automatically side with God.
But that’s not how the first hearers of this parable would have heard it. They didn’t know what was coming in advance. Matthew concludes the parable with “So the last will be first, and the first will be last,” but Jesus’ audience didn’t know that. We think we understand. We think that because we live on this side of history, on this side of the Cross, that we understand exactly what grace is. We think we understand what grace means.
But we don’t.