Exodus 7–9, Psalm 19, Matthew 20
The psalmist of Psalm 19 delights in the Torah, the law of God, and expresses joy in God’s instruction that sets Israel apart from other nations. Meditation on the Torah here and in other psalms (see, for example, Psalm 1) involves reflection on study and practice of Torah-obedience. Reading and memorizing psalms is something Jesus did. Psalms 18 and 19 are also profound meditations on the ideal orientation of a person in authority toward God. The readings from Exodus show a struggle between Pharaoh and God concerning the exercise of power over others.
Matthew’s parable of the laborers in the vineyard of the kingdom (20:1-15) describes the means by which those who came late to the employment office for the vineyard are paid the same as all-day laborers on the basis of God’s generous justice. It provides analogies for many situations and circumstances on which we are invited to reflect, all of which involve the inclusion of latecomers to the rewards of labor.
Those who were able to commit early to the labor of the vineyard might well resent that others added to the workforce receive, at the end of the day, the same wages as those who “bore the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” But as the vineyard owner explains, they are not unjustly treated: “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” What is given is not only generous, but as it is given by God, it is also just.
Those who challenge generous justice, having already been paid, seem greedy and their envy would deny God’s generosity to all who need it. Those who receive generous justice as the (unexpected) reward of their labors have only gratitude for God. So it is with those who come later to labor in the vineyard. We as latecomers are the recipients of God’s surprising generosity, for which we have nothing but gratitude. And in the end, whether we work early or late, aren’t we all laboring side by side in the vineyard of the kingdom?
What are the shortcomings of “equal work for equal pay”?
How has God’s justice been manifest in human history?
Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart, and especially the hearts of the people of this land, that barriers that divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace. Amen.
-Dr. Deirdre Good
Professor of New Testament
The General Theological Seminary
New York, New York