Reading for Friday, July 6: Matthew 20
The Kingdom of God challenges our understanding of equity. This seems to be the point of the parable Jesus tells in the first few verses of Matthew 20. A man hires laborers for his vineyard; some work a full day, others a half day, some work only one hour. Yet they all receive the same pay. When those who have worked a full day object, the master replies: “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” (v13-15).
Jesus reminds us that the Kingdom is God’s possession and He is free to dispense it to the degree of His choosing. “But I’ve been here longer, worked harder, and we both make the same pay!” Sounds an awful lot like the older brother from another of Jesus’ parables. This parable challenges us because we think of pay as getting what we deserve. But these day workers — in Jesus’ day and in our own — rely on this work to feed their families. So the greater injustice here would be to pay these workers less that their families might suffer. There IS a justice thread to this parable…just not in the way modern ears might expect.
In v17-19, Jesus again pulls the curtain back and prepares His disciples for what is going to come: “The Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” We have to wonder how much of this the disciples really understood. Judging by their actions, especially in the next story, we might say, “Not a lot.”
The mother of James and John approaches Jesus to ask for a favor: “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Understandably, the other disciples rail at this. (Can you imagine the ribbing they received from the other disciples? “What? You can’t ask Jesus yourself? You have to get your Mom to fight your battles for you?”) And even though the request is a bit presumptuous, there is also deep faith moving behind it. Zebedee’s wife is making a profession of faith in Jesus here, and that shouldn’t be lost on us. Sure, she wants her boys to sit on thrones, but she also believes Jesus will occupy the central position. She believes He’s the Messiah. And this, I believe, is a tremendous example of radical faith for us, especially to her sons, James and John. This kind of belief will cost this family dearly before it’s all said and done.
Jesus gives us something of a mission statement in v28: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”