The Gospel According To Jesus - Week Eight: "The First Shall Be Last & the Last Shall Be First"

Today, we are concluding the sermon series that will take us through September as we explore the Gospel lectionary texts from Matthew.  

This sermon series will take us through some of the key teachings and lessons from the life of Jesus as recorded in Matthew’s Gospel—to hear the Good News directly from Jesus himself. 

Many people in our current culture claim to speak for Jesus, yet when you hold up what they are saying next to the actual words of Jesus, it doesn't add up.  

This is why it's important to go directly to the source and read Jesus's stories and teachings.  If we are going to call ourselves Jesus-followers, it makes sense to know what he wanted us to do to follow him more fully.  

Today, we will read a story that Jesus told about how upside-down things are in God’s economy of grace. 

We’ll also learn that when you think you’ve figured God’s grace out, God messes with your head. 

Life Isn’t Fair.  (How many times have you said that?)  

We frequently tell our kids that when they complain something isn't fair.  At least I do.  I don't know that I ever coddled my boys when it came to that particular fact.  One of my favorite dad-isms is when they would declare that they were the victims of an unfair system was to say, 

"The fair comes to town once a year.  Life isn't fair." 

I got to thinking this week about that particular platitude, and wondered if there might be others like it.  Declarations about the unfairness of life, if you will. 

Here's a few... 

"But I also have to say, for the umpty-umpth time, that life isn’t fair. It’s just fairer than death, that’s all." - William Goldman, The Princess Bride

Life isn't fair is kind of a double-edged platitude isn't it?  Is it fair that some people are born into wealth, fame and the like, and the rest of us aren't?  

Is it fair that 40% of the world lives on $2 a day, and most of them don't eat on a daily basis? 

Is it fair that one person's spouse is spared from death, and another's dies?  (tell the story about the guy in Eustis)

As we mentioned last week, Jesus shared the Good News about God's economy of grace---the kind of grace that lands on everyone, no matter who they are.  And for a lot of people, this kind of radical notion of God's grace is too much to bear. 

Because it isn't fair.  In our economy of retribution. 


1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 

Jesus once again sets this up with the words "The kingdom of heaven is like..." 
God's shalom on earth.  God's economy. 

2 He agreed to pay them a denarius[a] for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

Denarius would support a family for 3-4 days. 

3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went.

“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

We can't ignore the economic implications in the 1st century context.  This owner is ensuring that the people in his village have a chance to support their family.  

"The first, last; the last, first..." let's read into this a bit.  

It's about Equity.  It's about the idea of grace being something that is equitably shared with all, no matter when or how they come to it. 

Each worker gets the honor of work; and resources to sustain life.  The owner diligently goes out and keeps trying to give work to those who need it.  

The reward is the same no matter when you arrive---this is Kingdom thinking.  

“The generosity of this landowner offers only a weak hint at what God’s generosity means.” - Luise Schottroff

It doesn't seem fair in our eyes, does it?  Because we're not operating in the same economy of grace.  We have a hierarchy of grace that usually begins with us.  

What do we learn from this?  

1.  God's unfair grace provides enough to live for all. 
Let the Christian man, then, conform his prayers to this rule in order that they may be in common and embrace all who are his brothers in Christ, not only for those whom he at the present sees and recognizes as such but all men who dwell on earth. for what God has determined concerning them is beyond our knowing except that it is no less godly than humane to wish and hope the best for them. (Institutes 3.20.38) - John Calvin
2. God's unfair grace is a constant reminder of how the world should be. 

When we pray the Lord's Prayer, do we actually mean it?  "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven..." 

3. God's unfair grace never stops seeking workers for the vineyard. 
Christians should want everyone to experience inclusion in God's kingdom, regardless of how or when it happens.  We should be for everyone, praying for them, hoping the best for them, and never giving up on what God can do.
Imagine if the whole of Christianity began to lean toward God's economy of grace?  What a difference this would make to emerging generations, to those who have given up on Christianity and the Church? 

God's grace is not fair.  God's economy is not fair.  And thank God it isn't. 



Popular posts from this blog

Wuv... True Wuv...

Rapha & Yada - "Be Still & Know": Reimagined

The Lord Needs It: Lessons From A Donkey