Our life is a story enfolded in the epic story of God. Stories are all around us. They move us, make us feel alive, and inspire us.
Jesus was a master communicator. He used objects, humor, current events, historical reference, and poetry. But most of all, he told stories. He knew that people remember stories. He realized that they were a way to reach people where they were living, help them see themselves in that story, and gain a greater understanding about life: life with God, life with each other.
What’s your favorite story to tell? Share it with the group. Why is that the one that comes to mind when we’re talking about the power of storytelling?
Jesus often used parables, simple stories that convey a deeper truth. We have record of over 40 of Jesus’ parables in the Gospels. Here is one that he shared with his followers shortly before he was crucified.
Have a volunteer read Matthew 20:1-7.
Mike talked about how the people hired last were surprised by joy. They had stood around all day wanting to work, but no one had hired them. For some, this may have meant their families would go hungry. Now, at the eleventh hour, an unexpected blessing came their way.
Do you relate to these people who were “surprised by joy”? Why or why not?
We often think about our relationship with Jesus as something that helps us when we die, and we forget about the beauty of the life that he offers us now, a life full of joy and peace no matter our difficult circumstances. The great author and thinker C.S. Lewis who came to faith later in life asked, “Why did I wait so long?”
The good news that we learn in this parable is that God wants us, no matter whether we entered into a relationship with him at the very beginning of our lives, the very end, or somewhere in between.
Did you come to faith early in life or later in life? How has that shaped you?
Have a volunteer read Matthew 20:8-12.
The men that worked for only the last hour of the day received a full day’s wage, the same amount as the ones that had worked for the entire day. As much as we would like to imagine ourselves being gracious in a situation like this, it is likely that we would also focus on how unfair it is, like the full day workers did.
This group was offended by grace, envious of the blessing given to others. Although they have been offered a fair wage and the opportunity to work for the day, they are annoyed that their one-hour coworkers make the same amount of money after only doing a fraction of the work.
Some of us naturally identify with this second group. We’re eager to jump in and do the work of our master, from beginning to end. We come to faith, excited about the new potential we have to carry out the task given to us, but when we see others stepping into the same role—without half of the work or experience—it feels wildly unfair.
Has there been a time where you protested God in this way? Share a time you felt like God was more gracious to others than to you?
We should be thankful that fairness is not God’s priority, because if it were, grace wouldn’t be an option and we would be given the punishment we deserve for our sin.
How are justice and fairness different?
Looking at the “those people” mentality that these day workers have, we can clearly see that there is a sense of arrogance, pride, and superiority. They pointed fingers and questioned if the others working with them—those people—were even worthy of what they were paid.
Who are those people for you? Who are the people you struggle to love, forgive, or accept?
Have a volunteer read Matthew 20:13-15.
The point of this story is the goodness and graciousness of the landowner, not the worthiness of the worker.
The workers question the landowner, and he responds in a powerful way. They focus on what they weren’t given. The landowner focuses on the abundance of wages he was able to give. When his generosity is questioned, the landowner reminds them that he is the one that decides how to distribute his money, and even if they don’t agree with it, they were not cheated out of proper pay, even though the late-day workers received the same wages.
It can be easy to point fingers and compare the way God gives to those around us and lose sight of all he has given us. In all of this, God’s sovereignty prevails, and although we might want him to call us in a different way, or give us more for the work we do, we can never out-give him, and he knows best in every situation.
Break into smaller groups and spend time praying for each other to lead lives where you are surprised by joy, rather than offended by grace. If there are people in your life that trigger an “offended by grace” response in your heart, pray specifically for grace with them and the opportunity to show them the graciousness of God.