Reflections: Sunday the Seventeenth Week of Pentecost

September 24, 2023

Today’s Reading: Matthew 20:1-16

Daily Lectionary: 2 Kings 4:8-22, 32-37, Ephesians 5:15-33

“So the last will be first, and the first last.” (Matthew 20:16)

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. This parable of Jesus, sometimes called the “Laborers in the Vineyard,” can be misapplied in two ways. The first is addressed in the parable itself. For longtime Christians, the actions of the master attack our idea of fairness. How could this master be so cruel to the workers who labored throughout the heat of the day?! Wouldn’t it have made sense for him to double their pay? If a day’s wage was what they were going to receive for their day’s work, shouldn’t the ones who worked an hour receive a fraction of that? The master’s kind words to the tired, grumbling servants are instructive for us: “Friend, I am doing you no wrong.” When we, like the disgruntled workers, look at the affairs of others, we play the comparison game: “What do they have that I don’t?” “What opportunities have they been given that I haven’t?” “Why them…and not me?” But the master comes into clear focus when he points back to his generosity toward the dissatisfied worker. “Didn’t we agree you’d work for a denarius? Take what belongs to you, go!…do you begrudge my generosity?” It’s as if he’s saying, “This is enough for you.” The idea of daily wages reminds me of the Fourth Petition, concerning daily bread. Remember Israel, wandering through the wilderness for forty years? God gave them daily bread. If they were greedy and took more than they needed in a day, it rotted overnight. God supplies our needs. 

The second misapplication of the parable is the temptation toward sloth, effectively saying, “If the reward is the same whether I’m there all day or just the final hour, why would I ever show up early?” Or, to put it another way, “Why should I spend a lifetime being a Christian, when I’ll be just as saved with a deathbed conversion?” It’s important to remember that none of us knows when our day will end–so we shouldn’t plan for things that aren’t promised…

But there’s another dangerous omission in this flawed attitude: the workers don’t decide when they start working–the master does. He goes out, seeks them, and calls them into His service. He goes out all day long, gathering more and more to work in his field, but also to enjoy His rich generosity! You didn’t choose to work in the Lord’s field, you were called! This parable invites us to see less of our own desires and jealous comparisons with others–and to fix our eyes on the generosity of the Master, our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

Lord God, heavenly Father, since we cannot stand before you relying on anything we have done, help us trust in Your abiding grace and live according to Your Word; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

-Pastor Dustin Beck is pastor at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Corpus Christi, Texas.

Audio Reflections Speaker: Pastor Jonathan Lackey is the pastor at Grace Lutheran Church, Vine Grove, Ky.

Study Christ’s words on the cross to see how you can show more Christlike grace in your life. Perfect for group or individual study, each chapter has a Q&A at the end, and the back of the book includes a leader guide. Available now from Concordia Publishing House.