Generosity in a stingy time

Matthew is the only gospel that includes this story and it expands on helps explain the previous chapter in which a rich man walks away from Christ and the disciples, who had “left everything and followed” Christ asks, “What will we have?” v. 27. Jesus tells them that they will judge Israel and that anything they have lost—houses, brother, sister, parents, children, or land “for my name's sake” will inherit eternal life and an overabundance of what has been lost. Jesus summarizes this teaching in 19:30 and 20:16. They aren’t exactly the same but their similarity tie them to one another; “But many who are first will be last, and the last first” and “So the last will be first, and the first last”.

The story that leads off chapter 20 is as normal to life in the first century as commuting is for us. A vineyard owner, quite possibly during harvest, makes repeated trips to a common area where people gathered for work. He offers to pay the going rate of a ‘denarius’ for each man’s work. Later, at 9 am, noon, 3 pm, and as late as 5 pm hiring people with the agreement in verse 4 “whatever is right I will give you.”.

At closing time, the owner pays all the workers the same wage—one denarius. The ones that worked one hour as well as the ones that worked a 12-hour day earned the same. Those who worked all day were upset. They expected to get more because of the time they’d work. It wasn’t fair to their way of seeing things. They were upset that their boss would equate their value with that of men who only worked an hour.

The Begrudging Spirit

Those who felt cheated had accepted the world’s way of negotiating their pay which, “is part of the value system or the world…a system [that] uses productivity to determine wages (Baeta).” Our Lord’s Kingdom doesn’t work the way the world does. It is a different value system in which God treats us “not according to our works but according to His compassion and mercy (ibid.).”

The first workers, when confronted with apparent unfairness responded in terms of self-interest. “He was only thinking about himself, not about the generosity and intervention of the landowner or the fortune of the other laborers (Wilkins 665)." Like those hired earlier the landowner pays them a fair amount (Blomberg 302).

Don’t be shocked by this for it is evident in the lives of others in Gods’ Word. In Exodus 16 The grumbling of the people is repeated 15 times in these short verses. They aim their grumbling at Moses and Aaron, but Aaron informs the people, “in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because He has heard your grumbling against the Lord” v7. At the end of Jonah’s ministry, the prophet is left alone and unhappy because God forgave the Ninevites. Jonah is angry over a plant God allowed to grow and then destroyed. When asked by God in verse 9, “God said to Jonah, ‘Is your anger about the shrub a good thing?’ and Jonah said, ‘Yes, my anger is good—even to the point of death!’.” If you have never read Jonah it ends with him sulking on a hillside overlooking the city that had received the gracious mercy of God.

The Grace of God

The landowner—God answers his workers and us by reminding us that he will do what he wants with his resources. Jesus’ response to one of the grumblers, ‘Friend’ is not friendly. It appears two other places in this gospel “and in each case the person is in the wrong (Augsburger and Ogilvie).” Both are in Matthew 22 and one identifies an invitee to a wedding feast who couldn’t bother to dress for it. The other instance is Jesus’ response to Judas’ kiss.

God’s generosity is at work here in these stories. It will come to fruition in less than a few months when Jesus is nailed to a cross and executed. The grace of God speaks to our culture today here in the U.S. when it comes to race and poverty. The teaching of this story is not meant to promote economic equality or a higher minimum wage, unlike the statement, “This theme of economic and political reversal is a red thread throughout Jesus’s teaching (DeCort).” No! Jesus’ point is that God is gracious, more gracious than the world could fathom.

"In the kingdom where grace reigns supreme, the equality of saints is significantly conditioned only by the priority of the last. The sovereignty of grace relegates the doctrine of rewards to a position of lesser importance (Hagner 573)."

What we ‘get out of’ being saved is not as important to God as ‘being real in loving’ others. When we question God’s grace or ‘begrudge’ in verse 15 ponhro,s is to judge someone as evil, wicked, sinful, and even the Evil One (Wilkins 665).”

We need to be on our toes when it comes to this because some of us have been following Christ for many years. They run the risk of thinking they’re more important because they know where the bodies are buried. Some have belonged long enough they seem to be long-timers. Such need to guard against making their desires normative for all Christ-followers. New believers also have to become grounded so that they do not believe that ‘finally the church can know what it needs to do.’

If you watched the news this week you saw a great human example of God’s graciousness when Lisa and Joe Waldner who offered the use of their travel trailer Pikkaart to Lee and Church Borgia who evacuated their home and ended up in their van in the Oregon State Fairgrounds. The Waldner’s settled the couple and their pets in the trailer.

Although a bit hesitant to loan out his trailer Joe Waldner says, “He has regretted it for a moment (Orti).” Ellen Donovan, a Red Cross volunteer described this couple’s generous nature,

"He went and bought a generator for them because there are no hookups over there, and every 12 hours he drives over there and he fills the generator with gas and just does a general check-up, nobody asked this man to do this, he and his wife did this on their own (Orti)."

This is a  human example of living a generous life. I do not know the spiritual nature of the couple, but I have to say they are a wonderful reflection of God’s graciousness toward each of us. Let us pray.


Works Cited

Augsburger, Myron S., and Lloyd J. Ogilvie. Matthew. Vol. 24. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1982. Print. The Preacher’s Commentary Series.

Baeta, William. "Don't Begrudge God's Generosity." Sermon Central. 2014. Web. 15 Sept. 2020.

Blomberg, Craig. Matthew. Vol. 22. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992. Print. The New American Commentary.

DeCort, Andrew. "Jesus: A New Beginning For Christian Politics-- Was Jesus Political?." Andrew DeCort. 2018. Web. 17 Sept. 2020.

Hagner, Donald A. Matthew 14–28. Vol. 33B. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1995. Print. Word Biblical Commentary.

Blomberg, Craig. Matthew. Vol. 22. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992. Print. The New American Commentary.

DeCort, Andrew. "Jesus: A New Beginning For Christian Politics-- Was Jesus Political?." Andrew DeCort. 2018. Web. 17 Sept. 2020.

Hagner, Donald A. Matthew 14–28. Vol. 33B. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1995. Print. Word Biblical Commentary.

Nikolic, Isabella. "Pensioner Is Arrested for Making 24,000 Complaint Calls To Telephone Company In Japan." MSN. 2019. Web. 15 Sept. 2020.

Orti, Camila. "Strangers Lend RV To Displaced Couple Sleeping In Van At Oregon State Fairgrounds." KPTV.com. 2020. Web. 17 Sept. 2020.

Wilkins, Michael J. Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2004. Print. The NIV Application Commentary.

Works Consulted

Augsburger, Myron S., and Lloyd J. Ogilvie. Matthew. Vol. 24. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1982. Print. The Preacher’s Commentary Series.

Barclay, Newman M., Jr. A Concise Greek-English dictionary of the New Testament. 1993 : Print.

Baeta, William. "Don't Begrudge God's Generosity." Sermon Central. 2014. Web. 15 Sept. 2020.

Bernhard, Toni. "20 Quotations on Generosity: A Profound Act Of Kindness." Psychology Today 2014. Web. 14 Sept. 2020.

Blomberg, Craig. Matthew. Vol. 22. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992. Print. The New American Commentary.

DeCort, Andrew. "Jesus: A New Beginning For Christian Politics-- Was Jesus Political?" Andrew DeCort. 2018. Web. 17 Sept. 2020.

Hagner, Donald A. Matthew 14–28. Vol. 33B. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1995. Print. Word Biblical Commentary.

Nikolic, Isabella. "Pensioner Is Arrested for Making 24,000 Complaint Calls To Telephone Company In Japan." MSN. 2019. Web. 15 Sept. 2020.

Orti, Camila. "Strangers Lend RV To Displaced Couple Sleeping In Van At Oregon State Fairgrounds." KPTV.com. 2020. Web. 17 Sept. 2020.

Pikkaart, Curry. "Can You Live with Grace?" Sermon Central. 2011. Web. 17 Sept. 2020.

Wilkins, Michael J. Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2004. Print. The NIV Application Commentary.

 

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