Matthew 20:1-16

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Parables - part 8

Matthew 20:1-16


The Parable in Movements:

  1. Movement 1 – The master of the vineyard hires workers
    1. The vineyard is a symbol of Israel and the kingdom of God
    2. The man agrees to pay the first set of workers a denarius – the average day’s wage for a worker in Palestine
    3. The hiring continues through the successive watches of the day – third hour, sixth hour, ninth hour. There are 12 hours to the day.
    4. The movement builds up to the eleventh hour. This is the last opportunity to hire anyone for that day’s work.

  2. Movement 2 – Paying the workers
    1. Now the master of the vineyard pays his workers.
    2. He begins with those who were hired last.
    3. Everyone is paid the same: a denarius
    4. The unfairness is noticed by the first set of workers. They have a legitimate case. They have done the bulk of the work. They have worked through the worst part of the day. They are certainly deserving of a bonus.
    5. However, if they had been paid first and sent out, they would not necessarily have any insight into the pay given to the final set of workers

  3. Movement 3 – The Master responds to the charges
    1. His response has two parts:
      1. He is fair with the original set of owners because he paid them what he said he would pay. If he had cheated them by paying less than a denarius, then they would have a case. However, he paid exactly what they agreed to. This is fair.
      2. The workers’ expectations are changed when they assume something based on the generosity shown to the eleventh hour workers. The Master notes that his arrangement with the eleventh hour workers is really none of their business. They cannot be concerned about what he chooses to do with his own money.
      3. This allows the Master to close with a question to the grumbling workers: “Are you envious because I am generous?”
      4. The parable ends with the saying: "So the last will be first, and the first will be last."

The Phrase "So the last will be first, and the first will be last” appears in Matthew 19 and Matthew 20. It is also found in Mark 10 (again associated with the story of the Rich Young Man) and in Luke 13 in which is references a reversal in the end-time.

Those who are first in this world seem to be those who are privileged by status or wealth. It could also refer to the primacy of Israel in God’s plans. Those who are last are the least – they are the humble and the wanting.

In the kingdom of God, there is a reversal (due to God’s mercy) that undoes the privileges that we concern ourselves with in this age. This is similar to the idea in Luke’s parable (Luke 16) of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Their situation was reversed in the age to come.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 23 May 2010

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