Psalm 145:1-8 • Exodus 16:2-15 • Jonah 3:10-4:11 • Matthew 20:1-16 • Philippians 1:21-30
This Psalm can best be summed up in verse 8, a proclamation of who God is that echoes the understanding that Jonah has about God, and therefore, his grievance against God. It is our best baseline of understanding to have as we read all of our passages for this week. This is the reason we are looking at it first this week.
First, if you have time, read the complete story of Jonah, it is a short & good read.
Jonah is a story of the prophet Jonah who understood the merciful character of God but did not want God to be merciful to anyone other than the Israelites. He especially does not want God’s mercy to be given to Assyrians or to the Ninevites. This story is a perfect visual for the lesson of Jesus’ parable we have in our Matthew passage.
Jonah is called by God to go east to Nineveh, instead, he goes west. On the escape west, he converts a boatload of gentiles, then he is swallowed by a large fish. When the fish spits him up at Nineveh, Jonah, begrudgingly, preaches the worst sermon in history, in our language it amounts to eight words (no, I will not be preaching an eight word sermon this Sunday), ‘Forty days and Nineveh shall be no more.’ He probably just ended with a period, not the usual exclamation point of a prophet – such was his lack of concern or fervor. When the Assyrian King, and the people of Nineveh, repent God relents and shows mercy. Jonah is mad, he knew God was merciful, it was an aspect of God he loved, except when it was shown to the people of Nineveh.
Apply the lesson of Jesus parable in Matthew to the unhappy story of Jonah – what are the applications and revelations?
Change is difficult. During this time of Covid, when our reality has changed in such a way that we know it will probably never return in entirety, we are especially cognizant of this truth. The Israelites are in this time of change, and it is difficult. They have just seen the glorious, amazing, miraculous, their rescue by God, and now they are complaining and wishing they could go back. They are in a struggle of giving up their old identity of ‘slaves’, an identity they knew, for a new identity of ‘free and liberated’. While conceptually, freedom and liberation should not be a struggle, they are. It takes a lot of trust to endure the uncertainty of ‘what is next.’ Over the past decades we have seen countries come to a measure of freedom and liberation only to end up fighting amongst themselves about ‘who they are.’
The reading of this passage can enlighten each of us to our own struggle with justice and fairness. What is your attitude toward the Israelites when you read that they are complaining so shortly after their rescue from God? What is your immediate expectation when God hears that the people are grumbling against him? How do you react to God granting their complaining requests in a positive fashion? Ask yourself, ‘what do my own responses say about my views of justice, fairness, and God’s grace?
Our context for this passage requires us to go in a different direction than we usually go. Instead of looking back to see what had just happened, we must look forward to see what is about to happen. This directional change requires that we look into the mind of Jesus, into the plan of God. In chapter 21 we have the account of the Triumphal entry into Jesus, it is the kickoff for what we call ‘Holy Week’.
The book of Matthew gives us a great deal of detail of the interactions and teaching of Christ during this week that begins with the triumphal entry and ends with the resurrection. It is a brutal and painful week that ironically begins with the celebratory parade like atmosphere as Jesus enters the city of Jerusalem – a celebration that will soon change to jeers and screams for Jesus’ death.
The reason this forward look is vital to understanding this parable of Jesus in our Matthew 20 passage is that it gives us an insight into the motivation of Christ to embark on this teaching on Grace and Justice. In approaching this passage, remember that the cross is clearly on his mind as he shares this story. Also, remember that Jesus always had a burning passion that his followers, especially those that would assume leadership after his accession, understand the essential truths of grace and justice. This parable is actually a probe into the minds of the disciples seeking to measure the extent of their ‘hunger and thirst for righteousness’ and of those things that acts as barriers to the pursuit of that ‘hunger and thirst’. Barriers such as the earthly ways of thinking of justice and fairness.
Have these questions on your mind as you read this parable:
- Would the statement ‘You have made them equal to us’ have been the thought in your head if you had been one of the original workers hired? Why?
- Why did the original workers assume that they would be paid more than the workers that were hired later in the day? What would be your response to the master if he responded to you, ‘This is what you agreed to work for when I hired you.’ (?)
- Why were the people later in the day not already working?
Although our assignment is narrowed down to these ten passage, take a few extra minutes to read the entire chapter. Put yourself into the place of Philippian readers of this letter from Paul, a letter than is uniquely meant for the members of the church in Philippi. A few context notes as you put yourself in their shoes.
- Paul is writing this from his imprisonment. It is possibly a house arrest which was still brutal. The Philippians had sent someone to make sure that Paul had food and care during his confinement. There was an understanding that many did not survive even this type of imprisonment.
- This is a letter of sincere friendship and deep gratitude for the Philippians.
- The Philippians are in a time of political oppression and abuse. Paul is encouraging them to continue them to be faithful to the gospel, to live above reproach, even in this time of uncertainty and brutality (this has a direct correlation of Paul’s reminder to the Romans in chapter 13 to live in submission to the authorities – not to live outside of their faith, but to continue permitting their faith in to govern their day to day life).
- Paul tells them that he is ‘confident that God will bring them to completion by the day of Christ.’
In a way, this is a could be a letter to our church in this time of uncertainty. Gratefulness for your faithfulness in difficult times. It is a manner of looking for God’s grace when things do not look so graceful.