I. Establish the text
A. Select the Pericope: Matthew 20:1-16
C. Other texts for Year A for Sunday September 18th in Ordinary Time
D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?
1 The Creator of heaven and earth (a k a the Landowner) gives us purpose in his earthly kingdom.
2 The workers agreed before working to what they eventually received.
3-7 Later workers trusted the landowner to pay them a fair wage. Where were these workers “early in the day” when the landowner began hiring people?
5-6 The Landowner goes out again and again looking for workers.
6 An eleventh hour decision.
6b What are we waiting for? Why are we idle about evangelism? What is our excuse? Just because we arrived late is not an excuse for not sharing the gospel, by word and by deed, with others!
8 This order would encourage jealousy and bait any greed.
9 Usual daily wage would have been just enough to keep a family from starvation so the laborer could return the following day to work.
15 Parable against works righteousness and other criteria for limiting the kingdom of heaven to those meeting a human interpretation of minimal expectations for salvation.
16 What is the significance of the order reversal? How does this amplify or modify the equality of the reward given to all of the laborers?
E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?
Jesus has just told the disciples “It would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” To which Peter asks: “Who then can be saved?” [Peter may have been thinking realistically, with the rich being able to propagate their genes by their wealth. But Jesus was thinking spiritually.] Peter also asks: “We have left everything and followed you. What then shall we have?” To which Jesus answers: The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” Those who seek to hang onto what they have shall lose it, but those who give up what they have, for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, shall gain everything.
II. Literary Study.
B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?
Several commentaries note the grammatical parallels with 19:16-30 especially that the concluding sentence in both passages are similar. In the preceding story of Jesus’ encounter with the rich man who wants to know that he must do to gain eternal life, Jesus tells him he must sell everything and give it to the poor. In this parable, the landowner gives away his wealth beyond what the laborers have earned.
C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms
v. 2 NRSV interprets paying the laborers a denarius as the usual daily wage.
III. Question the text.
A. Observe the passage from the perspective of its characters.
Did those chosen last presume they were not good enough to work in the field? Were they invisible members of the community?
C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?
Center of Gravity: The reward of heaven equally blesses all who receive it. Those who make great sacrifices and demonstrate superior piety will be generously rewarded. But so too will those who arrive in the last hour. So the first ought not lord over the last.
F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?
- Consider the necessity of even menial jobs to the success of a company or to a community. When garbage workers go on strike, and refuse piles up, their necessity is quite apparent!
- Definition of Success: “I get to do what I like doing, and I get paid enough to live.”
- Fairness of some people carrying the full burden of the costs of having a church for others.
- This parable highlights the impetus for Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins.
IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?
Brian Stoffregen (Gospel_Notes.firstname.lastname@example.org) notes that “those who begrudge the landowners generosity were those who felt that they had earned what they received, rather than see their work and wages as gifts.” Later he notes that employment is also a gift.
M. Eugene Boring (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “Matthew” Abingdon, 1995): “Grace is always amazing grace. Grace that can be calculated and ‘expected’ (v. 10) is no longer grace. (cf. 22:11-14)” [p. 394]
V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?
Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond
A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?
Although we can find biblical criteria to show that we have earned salvation, God can set that criteria aside to provide sufficient grace to whomever He chooses to justify.
B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.
God and only God determines who he might exclude from grace.
C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?
Christ’s message is grace, not punishment for failure to meet standards.