Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost September 11th
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16)
This week’s Gospel reading: Matthew 20:1-16
Let’s Start Looking
a. Where does the passage “sit” within the immediate scripture around it?
Jesus is now in the midst of his Perean ministry after crossing the Jordan, on his way to Jerusalem. He teaches on marriage and divorce with an air of authority that cannot be ignored (Mt 19:1-12). He then affirms the importance of children and the possession of the Kingdom by such as them – those within society with a low status and little importance: the poor and weak, the irreligious and the sinner, women and children (19:13-15). Jesus’ encounter with the rich young man in Matthew 19:16-30 reinforces Jesus’ earlier words about children and God’s inversion of society’s estimation of people.
The rich man goes away spiritually empty-handed while we’re reminded that the likes of ordinary people like the disciples inherit great blessing now and eternal life in the age to come.
Jesus’ saying in verse 30 probably looks back not only to the rich young man but also to the children in verses 13-15 (cf. 18:1-4).At the same time, in this saying Jesus may be seen to be qualifying what he just said to the disciples in verses 28-29.The sacrifices God calls on us to make in order to follow Jesus wholeheartedly do not earn, or entitle people to, God’s approval and blessing; nor do they guarantee greater reward (in this life or the next). God’s surprising, gracious ways with his people subvert our natural thinking about whom and how God calls and rewards. Jesus will expand on this in our passage that follows.
Our passage is followed by Matthew’s reference to Jesus going up to Jerusalem and again warning the disciples of his suffering and death at the hands of those who many would consider to be among ‘the first’ in God’s Kingdom – the religious leaders and teachers of Israel (20:17-19). It is Jesus’ death that will make it possible for God to graciously accept ‘the last’ in society (Mt 26:26-28; 1:21).
20:20-28 shows that in spite of Jesus’ teaching and his own suffering service that awaits him in Jerusalem, his followers still don’t understand God’s estimation of greatness.
b. How does it fit into the overall structure of Matthew’s Gospel?
Our passage is included in a series of Jesus’ teaching and parables concerning the nature of the Kingdom of God.
Matthew 19:30 functions as a transitional verse that looks back to what immediately precedes and forward to what follows. Our passage begins with an explanatory ‘For.’ Therefore what follows is the reason for the saying in 19:30.That saying is so because God’s kingdom is so…
The saying in 19:30 is repeated at the end of our passage (20:16), thus bracketing the passage and controlling its meaning and purpose. This passage looks back at least to 18:1-6 and forward at least to 21:11.
c. How does the passage contribute to what Matthew wants to say?
Matthew’s main message is that Jesus is the promised Messiah, Son of God (Mt 1:1-17,18, 20, 23; 2:15; 3:17; 4:3, 6) who brings the Kingdom (reign) of God (Mt 4:17; 12:28;28:18). Framed by the declarations that the last will be first and the first last, our passage and its parable underline the upside down values and standards of the kingdom of heaven.
d. Can this passage (or parts of it) be found elsewhere in the Bible?
Matthew 20:8 echoes Deuteronomy 24:14-15 where laborers were to be paid on the day of work.
The parable has some parallels with the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11-32). Each parable depicts God’s amazing grace towards sinners (‘the last’) and the ungrateful and jealous believers who resent God’s generosity towards the lost.
e. How does the passage help our understanding of God, Jesus, humanity, God’s salvation, our life together as Christians and discipleship
The parable pictures God's sovereign grace in personally seeking after his needy people who have neither sought God out (20:1, 3, 5, 6) nor merited his salvation (as 19:30 and 20:16 make clear: ‘the last will be first’).Those God seeks out and graciously calls into his Kingdom then gratefully devote themselves to his service (cf. Eph 2:8-10).
The parable also pictures God’s amazing generosity. His grace is not limited by our ideas of fairness and reward. In the story, every one was equally paid with the landowner keeping his word by paying the workers the agreed amount, regardless of the hour of the day they were hired. Regardless of their ethnicity (Jew or Gentile), social standing and gender, those whom God calls are equal in sin and grace. The Kingdom will include many whom the world’s kingdoms exclude; and grace will be given in equal measure but in unequal ways. Those who toil long and hard in the service of the Kingdom do not have
any special claim on God and will receive the same eternal Kingdom as those whom are enlisted late in the day. The latter would include Gentiles, those considered especially unworthy of God (eg, the irreligious and immoral) and those whom are called late in life.
God is equally generous to all. ‘You have made them equal to us’ (20:12) is the complaint of those who haven’t understood grace. Grace is grace is grace.
Let’s look at the historical setting
a. What’s the historical, political, social or geographical information that helps us understand the passage more?
This passage is a parable not a sociological study, although it does accurately reflect the practice of hiring unskilled labour at grape harvest. There was no welfare provision or trade unions in Jesus’ day. The story captures God’s extreme generosity and care towards the sinner. The late arrivals indicate the landowner’s generosity and yet no one was underpaid.
Let’s look a little more closely at the passage
a. How is the passage structured and is there a sense of movement?
1. The workers hired vv.1 – 7
2. The workers paid vv.8 – 10
3. The workers complain v.11 – 12
4. The landowner’s response vv.13 -15
5. The meaning of the story v.16
(b) What are the important or repeated words, ideas, themes, or, important contrasting words and explanatory words.
The explanatory ‘For’ in 20:1 indicates that the parable explains or gives the reason for the saying in 19:30.
The Kingdom of heaven is the reign and rule of God inaugurated by Jesus’ first coming and consummated at his return.
Denarius - The chief silver coin of the Romans that represented a day’s wage.
Owner of the vineyard – God.
Jewish time: A twelve-hour day began at 6.00 am, hence roughly 9.00 am (‘the third hour’), midday (‘the sixth hour’), 3.00 pm (‘the ninth hour’) and 5.00 pm (‘the eleventh hour’)
Vineyard: A common Old Testament metaphor for Israel (Isaiah 5:1-7; cf. Jn 15:1-11).This background suggests that Jesus here is also speaking of Israel as God’s early workers and of the Gentiles as the latecomers.
The ‘So’ in 20:16 introduces the saying that frames the story (cf. 19:30) and that gives its meaning and purpose.
Time now to turn your eyes upon Jesus.