This is Tuesday of the fourth week of Lent. The reading is Matthew 20, with a focus on 1-16. (If you want to listen, scroll to the bottom of that page for the audio links.)
Wright says of the parable of the hourly workers, “It illustrates what Jesus had just said, which he was to repeat at the end: many who are first will be last, and the last first. As so often, this has at least three levels of meaning which we should explore. To begin with, Jesus was facing his followers with the fact that God remains sovereign over his whole kingdom-project. Nobody can claim a special place either because they’ve worked hard, or because they’ve given up so much, or because they were in it from the beginning.
But, second, the message goes wider, right across Matthew’s gospel, in relation to the place of the Jewish people within God’s larger purposes. Jesus has made it clear, two or three times, that ancient Israel has a priority. He has honored that. As St Paul says, the gospel is ‘to the Jew first’. But the gospel is not only for Jews. As Paul goes on, ‘— and for Gentiles also’. That was bad enough for the pious Jew to contemplate. But now there was a sense, following some of Jesus’ earlier sayings, that the ‘obvious’ people had had to go to the back of the queue. This was not only humiliating. It might have looked as though God had changed his mind. Jesus was quite clear. God hasn’t changed his mind. It was always his plan to humble the exalted and exalt the humbled.
The third level, then, reaches out to us in our life of faith today. We need, again and again, to learn that there are no such people as ‘ordinary’ Christians. In the ‘renewal of all things’ which Jesus spoke about, all sorts of people will stand out as the real heroes and heroines of faith, though nobody has ever heard of them before. They will be the ones who, whether for five minutes or fifty years, served God with total and glad obedience, giving themselves completely to holiness, prayer, and works of love and mercy.
Gracious Lord, help us to be humble enough to take whatever place we are given, and zealous enough to work wholeheartedly for your glory where and when you call us.”
A fairly humorous church drama on this parable: What’s Your Deal