Thoughts for the Day

Sunday, 24th September 2023: The upside-down Kingdom

God the Father Matthew 20 Parable Kingdom of Heaven Jesus

Reading : Verses from Matthew, Chapter 20

Workers in the vineyard

Jesus said, ‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the labourers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the market-place; and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?” They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.” When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the labourers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.” When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’

(Lectionary, New Revised Standard Version)


Imagine the arguments, and no doubt the strikes, that would occur if trades unions were told that those who worked an 8 hour shift would only receive as much as the person who worked one hour! But this is what the Kingdom of Heaven will be like, says Matthew's Gospel. The Parable of the 'Workers in the Vineyard' says quite clearly that those who have been Christians all their life, will be treated the same as though who have only recently accepted God's offer.

Peter and the disciples find this difficult to understand, after all they have given up everything to follow Jesus, surely they should receive more honour, but Jesus says "the first will be last." We cannot earn our way into the Kingdom of Heaven. Indeed Jesus turns rewards upside down. Neither should we compete with other Christians for heavenly rewards. The fact that we have been chairman of the church council, or a priest, or led the intercessions for years is not what it's about. God calls us to give ourselves unreservedly to His service and to trust Him for our reward. We are to be reliant on a merciful God who will treat us more generously than we imagine or deserve.

Finally, notice that though the custom of paying the men at the end of the day is normal, those who have been present from day-break are paid last! However, in this upside down world of God's kingdom there is room for all who have faith in God's love and mercy.


Heavenly Father,
teach us how to offer You our love
wholeheartedly and unreservedly,
with no strings attached.
Help us to realise we cannot earn
our way into the Kingdom of Heaven,
but are called to Your service
throughout our life,
knowing that You are a merciful God
and will treat us mercifully,

Follow Up Thoughts

You might like to play or sing this lovely hymn, from Stonebriar Sanctuary Choir and string quartet, with lyrics:

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