URC Daily Devotion 11th March 2023

11th March 2023
 
St Matthew 20: 1 – 19
 
‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard.  After agreeing with the labourers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard.  When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the market-place;  and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went.  When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same.  And 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?”  They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.”  When 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.”  When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage.  Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage.  And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner,  saying, “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.”  But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?  Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you.  Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?”  So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’ While Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and said to them on the way,  ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death;  then they will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified; and on the third day he will be raised.’

Reflection

Once, a long time ago, I had to read this Gospel passage during school assembly. Afterwards, a fellow pupil commented, “Thanks for reading that story so clearly, but it still doesn’t make any sense to me.”
At the time, I shared their puzzlement. Now, though, I’m not confused by Jesus’s parable of payment for work in a vineyard – I’m terrified.

It was a sermon that helped clear up my confusion. “Stop seeing things from the perspective of those hired first,” said the preacher, “and look at it from the point of view of those hired last.” For me, this changed the story from one where the owner/God short-changes me, to one where God/the owner is generous to me, despite the fact that I arrived later in the day.

‘So the last’ – like me! – ‘will be first,’ says Jesus, ‘and the first will be last.’ That’s seriously good news, except that in this world, I’m seldom one of the last. Economically, educationally, socially, politically, and religiously, I’m much better placed. Therefore, taking Jesus seriously here is a terrifying prospect.

The parable is not offered as a guide to best economic practice, but indicates how God works – by putting the last first. Is this also how God intends things to be in education, society, politics, religion, and other areas of my life? Those who are last in line will be as well-resourced as those accustomed to being at the front?

This would turn society upside down. It would remove so many of the life-advantages that I enjoy. I have good reason to be terrified. No wonder that back then society’s leaders were very ready to get rid of Jesus.

So in supporting divine intentions and practices, I’m a reluctant, late in the day worker, but one depending on God’s generosity.
 
Prayer

O God,
Make me grateful for what you give me and generous in how I share that with others. Encourage me to welcome a world where your will is done on earth as it is in heaven.
Amen.

 

 

 

Today’s writer

The Rev’d Dr Trevor Jamison, Saint Columba’s United Reformed Church, North Shields

Copyright

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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