- Exodus 16:2-15
- Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45
- Philippians 1:21-30
- Matthew 20:1-16
Matthew narrates one of Jesus’ controversial parables, in which Jesus says the reign of God is like workers who get paid the same no matter when they start. The parable about the laborers in the vineyard is not a commentary on economic justice, but an illustration of the boundless generosity of God. It challenges our common assumption that God rewards people according to what they have earned or deserve.
Knowing the immense power of a first-century Palestinian landowner, Jesus compares this powerful position to God’s freedom to dispense gifts where God wills. The rewards of discipleship are not earned, but given (19:26). Begrudging God’s generosity is inappropriate. There is enough for all.
This is also shown in today’s Old Testament reading. Having escaped bondage in Egypt, the Israelites have now faced the reality that they have left the “comforts of home” behind them. They grumble, they quarrel, they complain. Still, God is with them, miraculously and graciously giving the quails and manna to eat. Are we so generous with those who constantly complain to us?
Our readings today challenge us to celebrate the salvation of those who have come recently to faith as much as those of us who have labored faithfully their whole lives. This doesn’t come easily to us humans. Like the Israelites, we are quick to whine and complain when things don’t go our way or one someone else gets what we think we deserve.
Jesus loves the person who has just been baptized at ninety just as much as he loves the one who was baptized as an infant. There can be no measuring the total love of God that is offered to all creation. Spiritual rivalry, jealousy, or hierarchy can be a cancer on the Body of Christ. Each time we say the General Confession, we repent and are equally forgiven in our one faith and one baptism. It is what makes us one in Christ.
As bread that was scattered on the hillside, was gathered together and made one, so too, we, your people, scattered throughout the world, are gathered together around your table and become one.
As grapes grown in the field are gathered together and pressed into wine, so too are we drawn together and pressed by our times to share a common lot and are transformed into your life-blood for all.
So let us prepare to eat and drink as Jesus taught us: inviting the stranger to our table and welcoming the poor. May their absence serve to remind us of the divisions this Eucharist seeks to heal. And may their presence help transform us into the Body of Christ we share. “Eucharistic Prayer” by Janet Schaffran, adapted from The Didache in More Than Words: Prayer and Ritual for Inclusive Communities (Meyer-Stone Books, 1988), 51.
Questions for reflection:
- What reward does Jesus promise to faithful disciples? What does it mean to you to put God first, even before family and property? How does this priority put your other responsibilities in perspective?
- With which group of laborers do you most identify, the ones who worked a full day or those who came last and received just as much pay? Why?
- In what ways does this parable challenge us to reexamine our understanding of what is just and fair? Which is more appropriate – to begrudge those who do not have to work as hard as we do to enter the kingdom or to feel thankful to God for the gracious love that extends to all? What are some ways to imitate God’s loving generosity?