September 21, 2005

No Seniority in the Kingdom

Matthew 20:1-16

1"For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. 2He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. 3"About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4He told them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.' 5So they went. "He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. 6About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, 'Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?' 7" 'Because no one has hired us,' they answered. "He said to them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard.' 8"When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.' 9"The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. 10So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12'These men who were hired last worked only one hour,' they said, 'and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.' 13"But he answered one of them, 'Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? 14Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?' 16"So the last will be first, and the first will be last."


"These men ... worked only one hour ... and you have made them equal to us ..." Matthew 20:12

I have a friend who works for a labor union and negotiates labor contracts. It's delicate work that requires give and take.

In our parable for today Jesus isn't focusing on fair-wage policies. He wants to teach an important lesson about grace. Newcomers need to learn it, and so do old-timers. Jesus acknowledges that there are some folks who have put in many years of service for God's kingdom. They know they are saved by grace, but they have also put in many hours and years of service. They sometimes complain that others aren't doing more, but they keep at it. They are loyal, hardworking servants. They can be counted on to volunteer and to help pay bills. It's hard to imagine a church functioning without them.

But as the church goes about the serious work of reaching the community, new people also join and get involved in the work but don't know all the ropes yet. They don't know all the doctrines and behaviors that the longtime members know. At the end of the day, however, Jesus says that each one gets treated the same. The lesson we need to learn is the meaning of grace--we all become members of God's family simply by his love and undeserved favor. None of us is more deserving than another.

Let's remember to view each other as God views us.

Lord, forgive us when we lose sight of how we have come into your family. We need to see each other as equal recipients of your grace. Help us serve together faithfully. Amen.

About the author — Martin Contant

Martin Contant serves Christian Reformed Home Missions as a regional leader in western Canada. Together with a regional ministry team he works with churches and leaders focusing on church planting, church revitalization, campus ministry, and leadership development. Martin and his wife, Sue, live in Surrey, British Columbia. They have three adult, married children and two grandchildren.

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