Reading 21
Our Absurdly Generous God—Matthew 20

Read Chapter 20

Taking in the 20th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel feels at first like feeding on a hodgepodge dinner of leftovers from the fridge. Two stories, a parable, and Jesus’ third unsettling prediction of his death (definitely not comfort food).

But in fact, what unfolds here turns out to be a carefully crafted picture of our absurdly generous God. Its opening parable gets under my skin as I side with the all-day workers who sweat in the sun, pulling grapes from brittle vines, and then get riled when the last hires earn exactly what they don’t deserve—a full day’s wage. But the landowner’s question takes me down: “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?” The kingdom of heaven is like what happened here, Jesus says. The last will be first and the first, last.

Matthew’s Jesus turns right around in the next breath and reminds the disciples and us that God in Jesus has already chosen what to do, to die and rise again, a choice that continues to stump the disciples to the very end.

Then follows the Zebedee boys’ predictable misunderstanding of the kingdom Jesus brings. Their mother turns up to appeal on their behalf for seats of honor at the celebration they anticipate. Surprisingly, Jesus not only refuses to blast them for their audacity, but he scolds the other ten, mad as hornets, for their own presumption of status.

Last comes the clincher. Chapter 20 is not only a story about the kingdom of heaven-kind of generosity. No, here Matthew finally shows Jesus himself doing that kind of generosity. With the eyes of the crowd set on him, he stops for two blind outcasts by the roadside. “Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David!” “What do you want me to do for you?” he asks. “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” And he, the one who owns everything and could choose to offer nothing, gives them new eyes. Considering that Jesus is no more than a week away from his own death at the hands of those whose eyes are blind to who he is, surely this final healing is packed with significance.

Do we have eyes to recognize this God of radical, upside-down grace? Can you see yourself in those grumbling vineyard workers? Can I recognize in myself the ambitions of the Zebedee brothers? Or am I one of the ten who watch and bristle with anger? Do you and I need the miracle of new eyes? And will we trust our absurdly generous God to give it?

To Consider:

  • Which characters in this chapter are most memorable for you? Note Jesus’ response to them. If you were in their shoes, how would you receive that response from Jesus?
  • Where in your life is healing needed? If God’s choice in answering your prayer for healing differs from what you hoped for, how will you renew your confidence in God’s generosity and grace?

Lord Jesus, give us eyes to see our need. Give us grace to honor your generosity, even when it puts us in last place instead of first. Amen.

Jennifer Ginn is Senior Pastor of Cross and Crown Lutheran Church in Matthews. A former teacher and editor, she enjoys writing, preaching, and telling gospel stories by heart. She is married to a pastor, and they relax by cooking together and watching PBS mysteries with their Jack Russell Terrier, Brisket.