MATTHEW 20=GOD’S ECONOMY
Bible Background: Parables (stories from life, often with an unusual twist) are one of Jesus’ main teaching methods in the Gospels. Often we’re tempted to allegorize them (as in: the Landowner=God, the all-day workers are the Jewish people), but parables are both simpler and more complex than that. They serve to make us think and sometimes leave us with more questions than answers!
Digging Deeper: 1. This is introduced as a parable about the kingdom of heaven, and how things are different where God is allowed to rule! While to our eyes, this parable might reek with ‘unfairness’, we see that all the laborers depend on, and benefit from, the landowners generosity.
2. For day laborers then and now, a daily wage that puts food on the table was and is essential! The landowner makes sure each one gets this. Do we believe that everyone not only needs, but deserves to have food for themselves and their family? How do we support that in practice, personally, and as a nation?
3. By paying the late-arriving workers first, the cry of ‘unfairness’ rises among the all-day workers, even though they received the agreed-upon wage. When do we ‘cry’ that something is unfair? When we feel we’re on the short end of the stick? What about when others are the short end? What do we say or do then?
4. “Deserve” and “deserving” are two words that tend to divide us from other people and their needs. Think of how Jonah would have used those words concerning the people of Nineveh. Think of how we use those words. How can we use them in positive ways? For example, declaring every human being is deserving of respect and of rights and of freedoms regardless of who they are or where they live?
5. What would you say this parable is about? Is it about God seeking out everyone? It is about God’s amazing (and sometimes abrasive) grace? Is it about human greed or self-centeredness? Is it a warning against coveting? (9th-10th Commandments) And how does your heart respond to this parable? How does your head respond? How is this parable good and necessary news?
6. “So the first will be last and the last will be first” is a way Matthew summarizes a section. We’re not sure exactly what to make of these words. They can serve as a reminder of reversals that need to happen-and which we may hope will happen-when Christ’s ways and Christ’s kingdom are fully realized!