Matthew 20:1-16 “I want to give the one who has hired last the same as I gave you.” (Ps. Kitazawa)

Pastor Kitazawa

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① Today’s Bible passage contains the following parables spoken by the Lord Jesus Christ.

・ There was a landowner who owns a vineyard in a certain place. One day, the landowner went out to the market to hire workers.

・He went out to hire workers first early in the morning, then around 9 in the morning, then around noon. Furthermore, he went out around 3 pm to hire more workers and sent them to his vineyard.

・After that, he went to the market again around 5 in the evening, then he found still others standing around.

・He asked them, “Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?” They answered, “Because no one has hired us,”

・He said to them, “You also go and work in my vineyard.” Same as before, he sent them to his vineyard.

・Since they didn’t have enough time, they probably prepared a basket and went into the vineyard quickly.

・One hour later … the sun began to set and the work was over.

・It was about time to pay the workers their wages.
For some reason, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, in verse 8,「‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’」

・For some reason, the owner told his foreman just as he promised to pay the same amount, a daily wage to those who came in the last minutes.

・Those who had been working all day were watching them and raised their expectations, thinking, “Since the owner of the vineyard here is very generous, I’m sure he will pay us more money.”

・However, the wages they actually received from the owner were one denarius as originally promised.

・That wasn’t what they expected, so they started complaining to him, in verse 12,「‘These who were hired last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’」‬‬

・However, the owner of the vineyard who heard these complaints answers, in verse 13 and 14,「“I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you.」
We could imagine them leaving still complaining and whining about their situation.

・This parable ends with the following words of the Lord Jesus.
In verse 16,「“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”」

・In other words, those people who had built trust in relationship with this owner in the first place, who had been work force of the vineyard, couldn’t maintain this great relationship till the end.
On the other hand, those who came in the last, who just started their relationship with the owner, they became the first. Things like that happens often, that is what Jesus pointed out.

② When we read the parables in the Bible, if we don’t understand the people in the story, the setting of place, what they are standing for, we cannot fully see the whole message of God that He wants to communicate through the parable.

・ Therefore, before we dive into the parable today, I would like to give you a background of the passage. First of all, the vineyard in the story stands for the kingdom of God, which you might already know.

・Also, it’s easy to guess the owner in the story refers to God. However, what is difficult to understand in this parable is “the first” and “the last” workers, who are they referring to?

・As we read today’s passage, and the whole context carefully, the disciples who were listening to this parable at that time probably understood that “the first” workers stands for the first people who were invited to be the disciples of Jesus, which means the 12 disciples including Peter. If so, it was understood that “the last” ones stands for those disciples who later became the disciples of Jesus.

・There might be the other who understood this parable on a slightly larger scale. For them, they understood “the first” one as Jewish Christians, and “the last” one as the Gentile Christians who later became disciples of Jesus.

・Then, we, Christians living in the present age, how can we understand this passage? Who do we think “the first” and “the last” workers refer to?

・For me, “the first” means those Christians who turned away from a self-centered life in their young age, and they have been serving the Lord working really hard for a long time.

・On the other hand, “the last” are those who lived for themselves for a long time, and finally decided to follow God in their later years. In other words, they only have a short time serving the Lord. I feel that reading this passage in this way is the easiest way for us to understand.

・As we read this passage in details, we will be able to see the whole picture of the message of Jesus Christ.

・Some of you might think, “Yes, I have been serving the Lord for such a long time of my life!” If so, you would probable consider yourself as “the first” one in this parable.

・On the other hand, some of you might think with a reglet, “Oh, I wish I was a Christian in my younger age so that I could live my entire life with the Lord.” If so, you would consider yourself as “the last” one in this parable.

③ There is something interesting about this parable. It can be evaluated so differently depends on the reader.

・Some people think that it is a wonderful parable, but others think “There is something wrong with this parable! I don’t really like this.” There might be some other who hate this parable saying, “I cannot stand this!! It is such a terrible story!!”

〇 I remember this question asked by a high school girl, who was seeking the way of Christ. It was around the time when I just became a pastor.

・That question was, “My dad told me that in Christianity, people say that it is ok to get the same wage for those who have worked long hours from the morning, and those who have worked so little. So he told me never to go to church. Pastor, do you really talk about that in church?”

・I don’t really remember how I answered her question, but I still remember her facial expression and her voice tone because it was such a interesting question to me.

・I’m sure her father was talking about today’s passage.
I don’t think there are many people in church who misunderstand this passage like that. However, there might be quite a lot of people in the church who think, “I don’t really understand this passage.”

・Then, what makes you feel uncomfortable about this passage? I believe it is because of the part the owner paying rewards to the workers.

・The owner of this vineyard paid the same wages to those who came first and those who came last.

・Not only that, the owner first gave the payment to those who came at the very last, those worked only for an hour. That makes us feel, “Isn’t fair to start with the one who came to the vineyard early in the morning?” We tend to think like that.
However, in fact, this is the key point of today’s Bible passage.

④ Then, why do we feel uncomfortable about this parable?

・First of all, it is because we have this common value that those people who work long hours, putting lots of efforts, they are great and that kind of people deserve our respect. We naturally think that they deserve more rewards.

・In other words, we have this value that we should receive amount of money or rewards based on how much we sacrifice our time, efforts, energy, and the result of our work. That is why when people are hired, there will be differences in our salary and working condition.

・In addition, we tend to value highly those who work harder, those who can work more hours, those who have more skills and abilities, and so on.
These can be the element of our respect.

・On the contrary, those who have poor ability, those who are considered not so useful, these people are not highly valued, and treated poorly by society. Unfortunately, that’s how it is in our world.

・Therefore, if we take this parable literally as the story of work and its reward, according to our standard, it doesn’t make any sense!

・But what Jesus is talking about here is not the rewards of workers working for some company. The vineyard in this parable refers to the kingdom of God.

・Therefore, working in the vineyard means accepting Jesus as our Lord in response to God’s calling, and starting new life in the grace of God.

・However, the timing of being invited to this kingdom is different for each person.
Some people experienced the love of God in their younger age, some turned away from God sinning against Him and later came back to be God’s children. Some people encountered God in their teenage years.

・There are others who have lived on their own way for a long time, yet by the grace of God, they were invited to be His children, being saved in their later years.

・Through this parable, Jesus is speaking to us how God sees each one of us who have such differences.  

⑤ As I mentioned earlier that there are many people who feel uncomfortable about this parable, so now I would like to share my personal opinion on this with you.

・In the Gospel of the New Testament, there are many parables told by the Lord Jesus Christ. Each parable teaches us about the love of God deeply and profoundly.

・But above all, this parable moves my heart the most. If someone asks me which parable is my favorite, I would respond right away that today’s parable is my absolute favorite.

・If I become a bedridden elderly person someday, and won’t be able to do anything, I would imagine having someone read this passage to me, and that would make me really happy. That is how much I love this parable.

・The reason why I am encouraged by this parable is it reminds me of how God sees a person like me with His great compassion.

・In my small studyroom, there is a picture of the study room of Luther where he translated the Bible. Every time I see it, I feel, “He accomplished such great things!! My work seems so small compare to his.”

・Therefore, I see myself as “the last” one in this parable. Every time I read this parable, I see myself in workers who came at the last. As I read this passage seeing myself in “the last” one, I can see how Jesus sees “the last” ones with such compassion.

・The owner of this vineyard favors “the last ones” so much that he gets criticized by “the first ones”. He treats the last ones so kindly that makes the first ones jealous.

・If we read this passage, seeing ourselves in the first ones, then we won’t be able to understand the message of God full of compassion and mercy.

・Now, what kind of people “the last ones” were? Why did the owner treat them so well?

・They were standing in the town market doing nothing when the sun was about to set.
Then, a man approached them and asked, “Why are you just standing here doing nothing?”They hesitated to say, “because I don’t want to work.”, so they made an excuse, “Because no one hires me.”

・In other words, they were considered as “losers” by society. I believe there were various reasons why they couldn’t get a job. There might be some having health problems, some having problems with working with other coworkers. There might be others who have no motivation to work because of their physical / mental problems.

・If the owner of vineyard were judgmental person, he would say something like ”How pathetic you are..!” However, he didn’t say anything negative to them, instead he said, “You should also come and work at my vineyard.”

・I am touched by the greatest mercy, kindness, and forgiveness of God, which goes far beyond the common sense and righteousness of human beings.
⑥ There is one more thing that I love about this parable. It’s the last word spoken by the owner. “I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you.”

・Although we all are invited to the vineyard, everyone is not the same, there are a lot of differences.

・For example, as I mentioned earlier about the picture of Luther’s study, we all are called “Christians”, yet not everyone does the same work.

・The work of the apostles Paul, Luther, Calvin, Bach, Ayako Miura, and so on…
These great people of faith have done great work. We cannot mention all of their names…

・On the other hand, there are some Christians who have just got saved, soon to be called to the heaven.

・However, through this parable, God speaks to us all, “I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you.”

・This parable teaches us that God invites us to enter the kingdom of God just like He accepts the other workers who came earlier.

・We serve such generous God, He is our Lord, Jesus Christ.

・Let us move forward this week in the love of our generous, loving God.

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