I’ve been reading a set of commentaries by NT Wright for the that last several months as a part of my daily devotional routine. These are not heady, erudite, complex commentaries. Wright has managed to take his incredible insights and craft them in such a way so that it feels like you’re talking to him over breakfast each morning about a passage in the Bible. I highly recommend any of the books in his “For Everyone” series, but the Gospels are particularly good.
I just want to offer a quote from the reading today and then a reminder. Wright’s passage this morning was Jesus’ parable of the 11th hour workers in Matthew 20:1-16. This is the story where Jesus says that day laborers had gathered to be hired by land owners and the land owner in question (representing God) selects different groups of workers; some at the beginning of the day, some in the middle of the day, and some just before the day is done. When it comes time to settle up with the workers and give them their day’s wage the land owner gives them all the same wage, not scaling the salary according to the hours worked. The workers who had been there all day were indignant, frustrated, and perhaps left feeling under-appreciated. Wright offers these comments:
God’s grace, in short, is not the sort of thing you can bargain with or try to store up. It isn’t the sort of thing that one person can have a lot of and someone else only a little. The point of the story is that what people get from having served God and his kingdom is not, actually, a ‘wage’ at all. It’s not, strictly, a reward for work done. God doesn’t make contracts with us, as if we could bargain or negotiate for a better deal. He makes covenants, in which he promises us everything and asks of us everything in return. When he keeps his promises, he is not rewarding us for effort, but doing what comes naturally to his overflowingly generous nature.”
From this brief explanation of Jesus’ view of grace Wright then goes on to explain what that means for us in a practical sense. He tears down the sense of entitlement that seems to be prevalent in some corners of modern Christianity and says this:
People who work in church circles can easily assume that they are the special ones, God’s inner circle. In reality, God is out in the marketplace, looking for the people everybody else tried to ignore, welcoming them on the same terms, surprising them (and everybody else) with his generous grace.
Friends, we must open our eyes and see who we’ve been walking past everyday. God’s grace is just as much in search of the invisible, rejected, and forgotten souls as it is for the old, ever-faithful saints. I would venture that for those of us who have grown entitled and indifferent, the antidote may be found in welcoming the workers into the fields that the world has rejected and overlooked all day long.