In our Monday-morning co-ed bible study, we’ve been reading N. T. Wright’s Simply Jesus. We’ve gotten to the part about what sort of kingdom Jesus is establishing, and Wright emphasizes that the parables show us what he had in mind. The question that keeps popping into my mind is, “What does the world look like when God is in charge?” The parables that Jesus tells aren’t descriptions of a heavenly realm. They are declarations of what happens when God establishes his reign on earth. In other words, these parables aren’t descriptions of the aftereffects. They put forward the mechanics of the kingdom itself.
In today’s gospel lesson (Matthew 20:1-16), Jesus says that the kingdom is like a landowner who hired a series of workers—some for the whole day, others for most of the day, and some only for an hour—and then paid them all the same amount. The radical declaration here isn’t that God’s riches are bestowed equally upon all people once God’s kingdom is established. The message is that God’s kingdom is only established when everyone receives the same. God’s reign doesn’t come down from heaven in a powerful moment of triumph that then sets everything straight according to kingdom priorities. God’s reign only comes down through the radical reorientation of our entire lives as demonstrated in this frustratingly illogical parable.
If you are waiting for God to come back before you seek to live in the kingdom, you’ve mistaken the prerequisites for the syllabus. You can’t wait on it. It waits on us. Jesus came and established God’s kingdom here already. His death shows that it is time for rewards to be distributed according to God’s universal love and grace and not according to what we think is right. If you’re not already living according to the kingdom that Jesus established, then you’re actively opposed to it.