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So the last will be first, and the first last

So the last will be first, and the first last.

This coming Sunday is the Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time. To help you prepare to enter more deeply into Matthew 20:1–16 at worship, here is the passage and an excerpt from The Navarre Bible commentary series.


“For the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market place; and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing; and he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the householder, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you, and go; I choose to give to this last as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.” [1]

Parable of the labourers in the vineyard

This parable is addressed to the Jewish people, whom God called at an early hour, centuries ago. Now the Gentiles are also being called—with an equal right to form part of the new people of God, the Church. In both cases it is a matter of a gratuitous, unmerited, invitation; therefore, those who were the “first” to receive the call have no grounds for complaining when God calls the “last” and gives them the same reward—membership of his people. At first sight the labourers of the first hour seem to have a genuine grievance—because they do not realize that to have a job in the Lord’s vineyard is a divine gift. Jesus leaves us in no doubt that although he calls us to follow different ways, all receive the same reward—heaven.[2]


To dig deeper in your own devotional time, contemplate these verses in the Verbum Bible Study software. Or, if you don’t yet own it, request The Navarre Bible: Saint Matthew’s Gospelavailable this month at a special discount.

[1] The Holy Bible. (2006). (Revised Standard Version; Second Catholic Edition, Mt 20:1–16). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
[2] Saint Matthew’s Gospel. (2005). (p. 135). Dublin; New York: Four Courts Press; Scepter Publishers.

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