One way of interpreting Matthew 20:1-16.
The way God does stuff is a bit like the big boss of a factory going out early in the morning, before the sunrises, to hire people to work in his company. (The big boss goes to find the workers, not the other way around like how we do it.) The big boss agrees to pay everyone £35 for a day’s work. Some agree, and the boss sends them to the factory to work.
Well, at about 9am, the big boss goes again and sees some people standing around, so the boss offers them jobs in his factory. “I’ll pay you what’s right,” the boss says, so they goes to the factory.
Not satisfied, the boss goes out again at noon, then again at 3pm, offering work to everyone the boss saw. At about five o’clock, the big boss noticed a group of people still stood in the town centre.
“Why have you been stood here all day doing nothing?” the boss asks them.
“We are asylum seekers,” the men and women replied. “We want to work. We used to work. Some of us were journalists, doctors, teachers, bankers and farmers. However, we are not allowed to work. We must wait for our asylum claim to be processed. Once we are accepted as refugees, then we can work again.”
The big boss says, “Come to my factory. You are welcome there.”
When the evening came and it was time to pay the workers, all the workers received the same. £35 for a day’s work as agreed. Even the ones who did no work because they were not allowed to work.
The workers that started working before sunrise were angry. “Why should they get anything? Surely they shouldn’t get as much as we do? This is SO unfair!”
But the big boss answered, “I am being fair. You agreed to work for £35 for a day’s work, and that is what I have given you. Why do you get angry if I share my wealth with others?”
Matthew 20:16 NIV – “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
My town is one of the places where the UK government houses asylum seekers. I say “house” rather than “home” because home implies a connection to community. I say “house” but in many cases it is just a bed, a chair, a room, and a door. We may be used to going into our houses and shutting the world away, but many people who come from countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia are not used to that isolated way of living. They are more used to people popping in unannounced for a conversation.
In the town centre, on nice days, I see many of the asylum seekers standing and chatting in the town centre. I wondered why, until I met with some asylum seekers at college this week. Many describe this desire to DO something, but not being allowed to do anything. They used to be professionals in their home countries. Coming to England was not always about seeking a better way of life. Sometimes it was more about having the opportunity to keep on living.
That is a big difference.
God’s grace is God’s. God’s mercy is God’s. Both are limited or made unlimited by God. Jesus told the original version of this story in a conversation with his disciples about what kind of reward they would receive for giving up all their possessions and following him. He told them what it will be like under God’s rule and not under Roman occupational rule.
When things are done God’s way, the boss keeps looking for the workers, as God keeps looking for people to join him.
When things are done God’s way, all are treated fairly, rewarded the same. Relationship with God! God’s love and mercy through Jesus Christ! We are all promised “life to the full” in this relationship. Jesus warns in his story against begrudging God’s love for another, regardless of if they followed God from the beginning of time or the beginning of their lives, to whether they chose God just before time ends (at least in the way we know it.) God still goes looking for us, each and everyone of us.
In God’s family business, God has no favourites.
Yet we are all God’s favourites.