Jesus faces an audience generally trained in the Jewish doctrine of merit. The immediate context of the parable concerns Peter’s question about what he and his fellow disciples will receive for following Jesus.
So Jesus tells a story. An owner of a vineyard needs extra workers for the full harvest before some of the grapes rot. He goes to the marketplace at different times of the day and asks, “Why are you standing here idle all day?” The owner picks up a crew at six in the morning at a fixed daily wage. And he adds workers at 9 AM, at noon, 3 PM, and again at 5 PM, an hour before quitting time.
At the end of the day, the manager hands out the wages. Those who started last receive the usual day’s wage. Surprisingly, all the workers receive the same amount; but those who worked more hours are furious and complain about unfairness. Certainly those who worked fewer hours were grateful for a full day’s wage for their families’ sustenance.
In a sense we note two opposing groups: the owner and the laborers; those who labored all day and those who labored a short while. Not fair! These words come to our minds as we consider the owner who pays everyone the same, including the laborers who work all day.
The owner keeps his promise to pay in full, and he shows grace to those in need with his generosity. God is generous to all and divine grace is sufficient to meet everyone’s needs.
The parable does not look at unfair labor relations with a worldview of scarcity and a value system of self-interest. Rather, it centers on God’s economy of provision—an economy not based on merit but on grace.

Merciful God, we praise you that you are a gracious God who gives enough provision to meet everyone’s needs. Amen.

Pray the Scriptures Using Audio Lectio
Read Matthew 20:1-16

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Lectionary Week
September 18–24, 2017
Scripture Overview

The reading from Exodus 16 concerns Israel’s primary memory of food given in the wilderness, given where there are no visible sources of life, given in the face of restless protest, given wondrously and saving Israel from both hunger and despair. The verses from Psalm 105 recall the marvel of God’s grace during the wilderness years and the people’s joyful response. In the Philippians text Paul wrestles with the question of God’s will with respect to his own leadership. Paul not only explains the meaning of his incarceration but goes beyond that to explain the meaning of his life: “Living is Christ and dying is gain.” Matthew 20 reminds the reader that in the kingdom of heaven God’s mercy is often surprising, even offensive. People are valued not because of their economic productivity but because God loves and engages them.

Questions and Suggestions for Reflection

• Read Exodus 16:2-15. What experiences have strengthened your trust in God?
• Read Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45. Spend a moment recounting God’s faithfulness to you in the past. Does recalling those times encourage your obedience to God today?
• Read Philippians 1:21-30. Paul acknowledges the importance of his physical presence to the Philippians. Whose physical presence makes a difference in your life?
• Read Matthew 20:1-16. What situations in your life make you question God’s fairness? When have you been envious because of God’s blessing of another?

Respond by posting a prayer.

I join many of those who will pray for you as you seek to discern what you are called to be at this moment. May God grant you the courage to fulfill that calling. May we all open our eyes and see the misery, open our ears and hear the cries of God’s people, and, like God through the Lord Jesus Christ, be incarnate amongst them.” 

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