Summary: An overview of Christ’s last week on this earth and its lessons for us
Christ’s final week - what would he have us know?
When a man knows the end is near - only the important surfaces. Impending death seems to distil the vital. The trivial is bypassed and the unnecessary is overlooked. Only the important things remain. This is what it was like for Christ in the last week of his life. He knew that he was heading to Jerusalem to die and he had just a single week to reinforce and recap the last 3 years of teaching to his disciples. What did he say to his disciples, what examples did he model? We can only touch on some of these today briefly, but I would encourage you to read Matt 20 - 26 through this next week and examine the emphases that Christ had in his last week because these perhaps hold the keys to his message to us.
THE PARABLE OF THE ECCENTRIC EMPLOYER - THE LAST SHALL BE FIRST
Jesus starts the last week with a parable of the workers in the vineyard. Mt 20:1-16
The picture is of a hire yard where every day, people who did not have a steady job would gather in the hope of getting work for the day. Prospective employers would come and choose the workers they would like to work for them. You could imagine the scene - the fit and strong with callused hands would be chosen first. Those that were not deemed suitable or worthy would be left behind. It was an honour to be chosen and what is more, it put food on the table. Two interesting things in this parable are that
1) The owner went back again and again at 6:00am. 9:00am, 12 noon, 3:00pm and 5:00pm to hire more men. This is not the interesting thing, the interesting thing is that they each received the same wage for the work they gave, whether it be 12 hours, 9 hours, 6 hours, 3 hours or 1 hour. Many see this as an illustration of the rewards that await us when we are saved, but this is not the primary point of the story. But the point of the story is not to do with salvation as it is with God’s grace. It may seem unfair that the same amount was paid for different amounts of work, but the amount paid was more than fair wages even for a full day’s work. There was nothing unfair about the money paid. What it does show is God’s mercy and generosity towards all people and particularly the poor and downtrodden. And this leads us to the second point of the story.
Imagine the scene - Who is picked first? The strong, the young, the fit, the physically whole, the handsome, the blond? (not!). Who was left behind at the first pick? The sick, the old, the disabled, the poor, the strangers, the dirty. Remember the school hard days when teams were being picked - the captains would pick the best players first and then their friends. So it would go on down the pecking order until the last couple of people who no-one really wanted at all. These were the no-hopers of society who no-one would give the time of day, let alone a job.
2) The Vineyard owner had mercy on the hopeless & helpless. He hired them and showed them mercy - something they were un-used to being shown. Jesus had given time to these people right the way through his ministry and was still now promoting their cause. Show them mercy, look after them he was saying.