“Here it is again, the Great Reversal: many of the first ending up last, and the last first.”
Matthew 20:16 MSG
There’s only a few actual words attributed to Jesus in the Bible. So the words in this little story matter! Check out The Parable of the Vineyard Workers in Matthew 20. Here, some workers hired just for the last shift got paid the same as those hired right from the first.
Seems like a real stir-up.
Spoiler alert: JESUS NEVER SAID ‘BECOME A CHRISTIAN’. Nope. Jesus was a Jew, he never read the Bible (unless he was also Dr. Who). He was steeped in the Law. As a boy he ran away to debate in the synagogue. Later, in his ministry, he never told anyone in need to ‘become a Christian’. He did say ‘I am the Way’ and invite people to follow. That Way is what he spoke, lived and ultimately died for.
Jesus was not a ‘nice’ person. He was subversive, active, challenged the status quo, took highly political acts, and pointed to a kingdom that stood the world on its head. Of course, there is a way of living that is kind, gentle, etc. (Ephesians 6) and a way that includes everyone (Matthew 5). But nice? Not necessarily.
Jesus never said don’t mingle. Huddling away from the world, floating in a holy bubble is just bunk. If you hear ‘Taking God to (insert cultural situation/land/people group here)’, then that’s not what Jesus was saying. GOD IS ALREADY THERE! So, ‘Let your light shine’, be active, be ready, and go mingle the message!
Clearly there was payment. But, Jesus never said Blessings = ‘kerching!’ He never implied economic success is dependent on obedience, nor that being a faithful follower brings material gain. It’s not the main goal! Jesus expressly says the POOR are blessed. God is not a supernatural ATM.
And here maybe is the heart of this little story: not one of the three shifts were given more, or less. Jesus never said one group has it sorted. A current critique of parts of (Western) Christianity perceives a certain group holds all the power (usually, older white middle class western privileged males). But Jesus simply invited all to live out kingdom life.
Listen up. All are welcome. All are included. The Bible says there is neither Jew nor Greek (Galatians), that we will all stand before God and there is only Lord and Saviour of humankind.
These subversive words of Jesus introduce us to a new Empire of love, one where we are all invited to do the work, whenever and wherever we are. The work today of resisting racism, inequality, exclusion, oppression, homophobia, cultural colonialism, is demanding. That’s our invitation, to work together to create a more beautiful vineyard.