Read Matthew 20
The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard
20 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went.
“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon 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 five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius.11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner.12 ‘These 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, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend.Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’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.”
Jesus Predicts His Death a Third Time
17 Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, 18 “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law.They will condemn him to death 19 and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”
A Mother’s Request
20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.
21 “What is it you want?” he asked.
She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”
22 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”
“We can,” they answered.
23 Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”
24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Two Blind Men Receive Sight
29 As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. 30 Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”
31 The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”
32 Jesus stopped and called them. “What do you want me to do for you?”he asked.
33 “Lord,” they answered, “we want our sight.”
34 Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.
Matthew 20 is another chapter where we see several different scenes unfold before our eyes. Jesus teaches through another parable, He foretells of His death (again), we see a power-struggle within the disciples, and Jesus restores the sight of two blind men. Through each one of these movements in this passage, Jesus is gaining notoriety and revealing the upside down nature of the Kingdom of God to all who were paying attention. While each scene in Matthew 20 gives us another glimpse into the Kingdom, we’re going to zoom in on the parable Jesus teaches at the beginning of the chapter.
As is common with many other parables, Jesus begins this one with “For the kingdom of heaven is like…” and He then proceeds to illustrate a spiritual truth with this story. As we read the story of the vineyard workers, it’s easy for us to feel the same “That’s not fair!” mentality that crept into the minds of the workers who arrived early. This often happens to us, especially if we’ve followed Jesus for a long time. We feel entitled to “more” or “better” because we feel like we’ve put in the work. But that’s not the point of the Gospel.
What’s on display in this parable is the landowner’s generosity. The same reward was given to all, regardless of when they arrived and what they had done. If we truly believe that we are all sinful and in need of a savior, then we have no room for entitlement. We’re just grateful for the generosity of God to give His Son as a payment on our behalf. If we truly understand the Gospel, not only do we not feel short-changed, but we celebrate everyone else on the receiving end of the gift of grace.
This idea that “the last shall be first” was said at the end of the previous chapter (Matthew 19:30) and is repeated at the end of this parable (v. 16). From the parable at the beginning to Jesus reminding the disciples that he came to serve and not be served (v. 28) to the blind men boldly asking Jesus to heal them (v. 31-33), we’re reminded that humility is a requirement in God’s Kingdom. To truly understand the Good News of Jesus, we have to start with the acknowledgment that we can’t save ourselves. As we go about our days today, let’s practice humility and live with that reminder that the last shall be first.
- Which scene in today’s reading stuck out to you the most? Why?
- When reading this parable, what’s your initial or gut reaction?
- How can you acknowledge your need for a savior today? In what ways can you practice humility today?
Check out this quote from C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity on the concept of humility:
“Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody.
Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him.
If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.”
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