In her “Introduction to A Memoir of Mary Ann,” Flannery O’Connor remembers Nathaniel Hawthorne’s visit to a workhouse in Liverpool. There, Hawthorne was struck by an experience of strange wonder. He found himself giving love to the least. A young child, sickly, discarded, came to him and pestered him for attention. Hawthorne was repulsed. In time, however, he found himself drawn into love: Love for the least.
Hawthorne’s experience shaped some of the fictions he told. More importantly, however, it shaped the life of his daughter, Rose. As a Catholic in nineteenth century New York, she saw the poor dying of cancer. They did not have the means to secure adequate care in their dying. In response, she created a home where she, and later an order of nuns, cared for them until they died: Love for the least.
Imagine a world where love is given to the least. That is what Jesus is inviting His disciples to do in His parable this morning.
The story is familiar to us. A master hires laborers to work in his vineyard. Although they start at different times of the day, he pays them all the same. Living in a country where we have a problem with income inequality, we are prone to question the master’s actions. We may sympathize with the first workers. We know situations of inequality and we want to work for justice.
Jesus, however, is not trying to teach us about labor in this world. He is telling a parable of the Kingdom. As far as labor in this world is concerned, the apostle Paul’s counsel for workers still stands. A worker is worthy of his or her hire (employers take note!) and workers are to serve their employers mindful that their service is being rendered to God.
But, when it comes to the Kingdom of God, Jesus is revealing something different. He shows us something strange that is breaking in upon this world: Love for the least.
He shows us something strange that is breaking in upon this world: Love for the least.
In this parable, Jesus reveals the joy of His Father’s Kingdom. Strangely, He hides that joy in the closing words of the master whose actions we question and whose accusation stings.
To the first workers, the master says, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” “Who are you to accuse me?” the master says. “I have given you what I agreed to give you, now take your money and go. When you have your own kingdom, run it the way you want. But this is my kingdom and I will govern it with grace and generosity: Love for the least. I would love for you to stick around but your heart will have to change because I am generous and that will never change.”
Within this master’s accusation is an invitation, a call to experience a strange wonder. The joy of the Kingdom. Jesus did not come to call the righteous but sinners. He did not come for the healthy but the sick. In the Kingdom of Jesus, no one earns their place as children. It comes to them freely, graciously, mercifully, surprisingly as a gift. This never-failing mercy of Jesus changes hearts from grudges to gratitude. Even today, as we listen to this parable, Jesus calls us to remember, we are all saved by grace through His death and resurrection. In His Kingdom, love will be poured out for the least.
This never-failing mercy of Jesus changes hearts from grudges to gratitude.
Jesus does more than invite us to imagine a world where love is given to the least. He calls us to live in it. Such a world exists… in Him. In Jesus, God delights in giving what is not deserved: Salvation to sinners and the joys of Heaven to those suffering the horrors of hell. The poor in spirit receive the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus, like His Father, delights in grace that is truly grace: Unearned, free, life giving and life changing.
Jesus tells this parable not to have us sit and ponder. No, He invites us to join Him in His Father’s mission. Jesus knows that working in the Kingdom can be difficult. We can forget about the joy. So, He reminds us what the Kingdom of God is like: An orphan being welcomed home; a person dying of cancer being treated like a person loved by God; an enemy receiving the welcome of a friend. We could go on and we should go on, but not just in words. Instead, we go on in deeds.
Today, Jesus brings the joy of the Kingdom and calls you from begrudging the generosity of God to sharing that generosity with the world.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Matthew 20:1-16.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Matthew 20:1-16.
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. John Nordling of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Matthew 20:1-16.