Sunday September 20

Gospel of Matthew 20:1–16a

Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.

Jesus told his disciples this parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. Going out about nine o’clock, the landowner saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.’ So they went off. And he went out again around noon, and around three o’clock, and did likewise. Going out about five o’clock, the landowner found others standing around, and said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’ When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Summon the labourers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’ When those who had started about five o’clock came, each received the usual daily wage. So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage. And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’ He said to one of them in reply, ‘My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?’ Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

The parable of the labourers in the vineyard is often described as a story about coveting, about our frustration with the grace of God as it applies, not to us, but to others.

However, I think Jesus is ingeniously teaching us about grace in this parable. Grace is about experience of God. An encounter with God changes everything, especially if we welcome that grace and relish it. Evidence of grace is its spirit of generosity. It always leads to loving service.

Mary Ward speaks of the power of grace. She emphasises the experience of God and how central it is to life. One can’t understand God with thought and reasoning. Experience of God is at the heart of the matter. 

“There was another Father that came recently from England, whom I heard say that he would not for a thousand worlds be a woman because he thought a woman could not apprehend God. I answered nothing but only smiled, although I could have answered him by the experience I have of the contrary. I could have been sorry for his want of judgement – but I mean not want of judgement for he is a man of very good judgement – his want is in experience! Experience, we women do not lack.” [1]

Experience of love, peace, joy, freedom is life changing. It tips everything upside down! In one moment, everything can look different. As Jesus says, “Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.” We are all equal recipients of God’s gifts. 

In my prayer, I ask for the grace that I desire today.


[1] Mary Ward, excerpt from Verity Speech