Prepare to Listen. So the last will be first, and the first will be last.
Prayerfully Read Matthew 19:30-20:16
30‘But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.’ 1‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. 2After agreeing with the labourers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the market-place; 4and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went. 5When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?” 7They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.” 8When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the labourers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.” 9When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” 13But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” 16So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’
The parable is bracketed by Jesus’ assertion that the first will be last, and the last first. Is that fair? Not according to our standards. We want people to get what they deserve, but we also strive to be first and great. It’s ingrained in our psyches. We need to take the second gaze at the story Jesus told, a story that emphasizes that the way of the kingdom is a reversal of our way.
A gut response to the story from many of us is: That’s not fair. It’s not even morally right to pay all laborers, regardless of time worked, the same wage. The men who worked 12 hours should be paid 12 times as much as those who only worked one hour. We support their protest. However, the story is about God, not fair wages for workers and two things stand out.
First, the landowner had a right to do whatever he wanted with his money. It was his right to be generous or unfair. And this is true of God, whom the landowner represents. We might not like the fact that God rewards a person we think should rot in hell. But God has the right to be generous with his mercy. Second, when the first laborers signed up, they agreed, without comment, to the usual payment. They could have asked for more before signing up. The landowner was generous. It’s likely he’d agree to a higher wage. They never asked. God is a generous giver. All we need is to ask. If we don’t, we can’t complain.
How can you live Jesus’ generous reversal of “the last shall be first, and the first last”?
Respond in Prayer
Lord help me live your upside-down way that reverses expectations and accept your way of not seeking to be first. Amen.
Live Obediently. Live Jesus’ upside-down way.
 See explanation for ‘second gaze’ at: https://www.storymakerlife.com/a-second-gaze.htm
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Despite having frequently read and taught Matthew's Gospel, preparing these daily devotions, taking that second gaze, has surprised me with newness.