Pastor Nelson Bonilla: 9-24-23 “Workers In The Vineyard” 

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Matthew 20:1-16

The Parable of the vineyard workers appears only in Matthew and Matthew places it between two similar expressions. Matthew 19th ends in verse 30 with Jesus saying, “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.” The parable ends in chapter 20:16 with Jesus saying, So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” I believe Matthew does that on purpose and should be a clue to consider when we read this parable. Another clue is found in Chapter 19:3, where Matthew says that some Pharisees came to him to test him. Maybe the Pharisees were still present when he told them the Parable of the vineyard workers. In the parable the first ones represent the people of Israel and of course the Pharisees, and the last ones represent the gentiles, those they looked down.

In this parable Jesus uses workers and salary to talk about God’s Kingdom. To talk specifically about hope and grace for those whom the Pharisees -who believed they were the first ones- were trying to keep out of God’s kingdom. Chapters 19 and 20 make emphasis that the kingdom of heaven has different rules than this world. In 19:16-22, a rich young man came to Jesus asking, “Good teacher, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” When Jesus told him to sell his possessions and give them to the poor, the man went away sad, because he had many possessions.

          Matthew says that Peter was observing the dialogue between the rich young man and Jesus and realized that he and the rest of the disciples had already left everything to follow Jesus and wanted to know about what their reward will be. Jesus’ answer was the twelve will sit on twelve thrones and judge the twelve tribes of Israel. Imagine Peter’s smiling thinking on him seated on the throne. Ater all, he was one of the first ones However, the reward will not be limited to them only. “Everyone who has left houses, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, -says Jesus- will receive one hundred times, and will inherit eternal life.” Everyone, that included the gentiles. This reward to the gentiles will not diminish the reward for the twelve, the first ones of the parable; this only ensures God’s being extended to others, the last ones of the parable. I wonder if Peter and the rest of the disciples felt the same way as the first workers of the vineyard.

          As a good Jew, Peter felt he was one of the first ones and he deserved a good reward. I believe I am not wrong if I say that Jesus shared this parable as an answer to Peter’s question, “What then will we have?” I wonder how Peter felt when he heard this parable. Was he frustrated, because Jesus implies that the rewards that the apostles -who represent the ones who begun at 6 a.m.- will receive, will be the same rewards the gentiles -the later workers- will also receive.? was Peter’s sense of justice offended.?

We can say that the context of this parable is ambition. And if we are not convinced that the context is ambition all we must do is continue reading. Right after the parable, the mother of James and John came to Jesus requesting a special place in the kingdom for her two sons. When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. Jesus uses this parable to turn such ambitions upside down. He removes the notion that heaven can be earned with our deeds. With this parable Jesus also removes the notion that our heavenly rewards will be according to our Christian service. And he strips away the notion that we can compete with other Christian to see who gain a better mansion in heaven. With this parable Jesus reminds us that we all dependent on the generosity of a merciful God who at every moment surprises us with undeserved blessings as the landowner did with the five o’clock workers who were not expecting a whole Denarius as payment.

In verse 9, Matthew says, “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner.” The first workers had expectations because of the number of hours they worked. When their expectations were not met, those expectations turned into grumbling. “These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.” They were upset because the later workers were treated equally. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines Ambition as “an ardent desire for rank, fame or power.” says, “Ambition is often associated with a strong desire for power, wealth, or status. It can be seen as a more ego-driven pursuit, often linked to competition, and winning. Ambitious individuals may evaluate their position in comparison to others and let that propel them toward new heights. The ambition shown by the mother of James and John trying to get the best place for her sons is also shown by the 6 a.m. workers too.

The message this parable has for us is, God does not want ambition the drive our lives; he wants aspiration to lead us. Ambition and aspiration refer to something we wish to attain. However, there are differences between these two words. Aspiration is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “a strong desire to achieve something high or great.” As Christians what should be our high desire to achieve? Verse 15 gives us a clue, not to be envious of God’s generosity to others. We must rejoice when others have an easier life than the one, we had. We live in a society that believes that if my generation had it hard, the next generation should have it hard too. If I paid for my college, -I have heard a lot of people saying- why the government must pay for the college for these young people? Or if I have been working since, I was 12 or 13, these young people should do the same.

This parable is a reminder that God’s sense of justice is different than ours. In verses 13-15 of the parable, the landowner seems surprised for the complains,“But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?” God’s kingdom values are propelled by his mercy and grace; our values are propelled by the belief that we deserved better, because we are better than others.

Jonah was angry when God forgave the Assyrians, who he believed deserved to be destroy. His sense of justice was enough to feel angry for the plan God destroyed, but not to be happy for the people God forgave; the older brother was upset when his father forgave the younger brother when he came back, his sense of justice was self-centered. “Many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.” “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”; the Pharisees were also upset when Jesus treated the last the same way he did the first.

When Jesus was teaching about grace, compassion, and mercy, he was aligning himself with the prophets of the Old Testament. Micha 6:8 say, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. In Mark 6:34, before the miracle of the 5,000, “Jesus saw a large crowd and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” God still expects his people “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. God still expect his people see the crowds with compassion.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus asked the expert in the law, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Brothers and sisters let us make God’s justice, mercy, grace, and compassion part of our values when we deal with our neighbors. Today once again Jesus is God is asking us, his disciples the same, “Go and do likewise.” Are we going to?

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