The Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – 20 September 2020
Lectionary Readings: Isa. 55:6-9; Ps. 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18 (18a); Phil. 1:20c-24, 27a; Mt. 20:1-16a
Theme: No one left behind
The gospel for today, the first sixteen verses of chapter 20 of Matthew, the parable of the generous landowner, is framed by two parallel statements that provide a clue to its interpretation. Unfortunately the Catholic lectionary does not include the first of these as it is the last sentence of the previous chapter (Matt 19:30). Its function as one member of a framing pair has been obscured by the decision made in the 12th century by Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, to place the chapter divisions in their present positions. This commentary will begin by looking more closely at the frame. The two framing verses are parallel but not identical:
“But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” (Matt 19:30)
“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matt 20:16)
Notice that in the second statement the order of first and last has been changed. If both verses are read out quickly it gives the impression that there is really no difference between first and last. Is this Matthew’s vision of what the Kingdom of Heaven looks like – that there is no first or last in the Kingdom? It is worth noting that Matthew’s phrase “Kingdom of Heaven” is equivalent to “Kingdom of God” in the other Gospels, and that it refers to the reign of God here on earth.
Both Craig Blomberg and Jewish scholar Amy-Jill Levine draw attention to the fact that a story about a vineyard would have immediately called to mind, for its first-century hearers, its use in the Bible as a metaphor for Israel (e.g. Isa 5:1-7). They would also have recognized “a denarius” or “the usual daily wage” as the amount a worker and his family needed to avoid going hungry. Levine goes on to ask “What if we saw the parable not as about exploitative landowners and workers facing extreme poverty, but…about what God would have us do not to earn salvation but to love our neighbor?” (Levine, 204).
Levine draws attention to the fact that various rabbinic sources contain similar stories. In the Jerusalem Talmud (Berakhot 2.7) a king pays an excellent worker who worked for only two hours the same as others who worked all day, and they complained. But he explained that he was paying for quality, not quantity. God’s perspectives are often different from ours. The workers sought what they thought was “fair” but the king showed them what was “right” (Levine, 212-213). Is Matthew’s parable emphasizing the fact that everyone should have enough to live on, irrespective of “worthiness”? That, in the Kingdom of God, here and now, no one should be left behind?
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. How would you respond to the argument that those who worked all day have been treated unfairly? 2. What might you be able to do to help make Matthew’s vision of the Kingdom of Heaven more a reality at the present time?
Bibliography: Blomberg, C.L. in Beale, G.K. & Carson, D.A. (eds) Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids MI: 2007); Levine, A-J. Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi (New York NY: 2014).
This week’s Sunday Liturgy Commentary was prepared by
Kevin L McDonnell cfc, Australia, Bat Kol alumnus 2003, 2004, 2005