Subtitle: “If…when I’m honest…”

Note: A biblical reflection, based on Matthew 20.1-16, the gospel passage appointed for this day in the Revised Common Lectionary (originally posted on September 24, 2017 and, here, revised).


The landowner asks, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?”

And if…when someone receives something that I believe I deserve and if…when I’m honest, I testily reply, “No!”

Then the landowner asks, “Are you envious because I am generous?”

Again, if…when I’m honest, chastened by the implication of the question that I am rarely, if ever so generous, I humbly answer, “Yes.”

Jesus tells a parable comparing God’s kingdom to a landowner who hires workers throughout the day from first light to an hour before dusk. At day’s end, the landowner summons the workers in reverse order from the last to the first hired, perhaps to assure that all will see what’s up, and pays all the same wage.

If…when I’m honest, I take offense (a bit, maybe more!) at the landowner’s munificence, which, to me, seems like injustice. For, as human, I employ the worldly calculus of time and effort, purpose and perseverance, ability and achievement to determine, fairly, I think, what I deserve. Whatever the wage. Financial remuneration. Public recognition. Personal attention and affection.

And if…when I’m honest, I think I’m right! For, in light of the way the world is, I have a right to this time-honored sense of what makes sense: If I have more, give more, do more, then I should get more!

But Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who” – with the inequality of his authority, possessing land and wealth, over and against day laborers who have nothing but the strength of arm and the sweat of brow to exchange for a daily wage – establishes equality for all.

And if…when I’m honest, I say, “Thanks be to God!” For God, in the life and ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, doesn’t pay me, but rather gives to me – and to all of us – not the wage, but the gift of salvation, which is beyond human deserving.

Why does God do this? Because God loves us equally no matter who we are, no matter how much or how little we have, give, and do.

And God does this, I think, I believe, waiting to see if…when we will see what’s up, and then, like God, act as generously lovingly toward one another.

© 2020 PRA

Illustration: Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard, Eugène Burnand (1850-1921)

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