Rick Sweeney
7 min readOct 2, 2020


EXODUS 16: 1–15 MATTHEW 20: 1–16


Do you have enough food for today? I admit that I consume more than I need. I was invited to a church members home for dinner. The mom announced proudly that her six-year-old daughter had set the table all by herself. When we sat down, I noticed as did the mom that there was no silverware at my place. “Honey, why didn’t you give Reverend Sweeney any silverware?” The daughter answered, “I didn’t think he would need any. Daddy says he eats like a horse.”

I follow a pre-selected list of readings for the year called the lectionary. I usually choose one of the passages to preach. But this week, the passage in Exodus and the passage in Matthew are so complementary that the sermon is based on both. They are both about people getting what they need.

The Hebrew people in the wilderness were out of food. Food is one of the basic needs to sustain human life. So, God sends a kind of bread from heaven in the morning. It was called manna. The word manna means “What is it?” That could lead to a who’s on first exchange. What is it? Yes. Manna? That is correct. But they gathered it every morning and there was enough to feed the family for one day. But the gift came with a strange condition. They could only gather enough for one day. If they tried to gather more and store it up, it rotted. Could any of us be content with just enough for one day? Some people tried to store up extra. But that was not part of God’s blessing. There was just what they needed for one day.

It’s a nice story; a little strange but nice. No one went hungry. Everyone was in the same boat. Do you have enough for today? Yes. Do have any for leftovers? No. But then we get to Matthew. Jesus tells a wild story about a vineyard owner who hires day workers. When we lived in New Jersey, the laborers would line up at the train station and hope that someone would hire them for the day. It was like that in the parable, except for the train station part. Maybe it was at the camel station. Some got hired right away and they earned a denarius or just about what you needed to feed a family for one day. Others got hired later in the day and some worked only the last few hours. And it was at payday that the trouble started.


Zeb worked the last two hours of the day. He steps up to the paymaster and he receives a denarius. So, Nathaniel figures since he worked all day he will received more. But when he looks at his check, he gets a denarius, the same as Zeb. Well that’s just ridiculous. What kind of unfair labor practice is this? And so, the all-day workers grumble about these Joshuas come lately.

Grumbling plays a significant part in the Bible. The people grumbled at Moses regularly. Jonah grumbled about God saving Nineveh. The older brother grumbled about the prodigal’s return. That’s not fair! That is a cry that is as common as political ads. Another thing for us to grumble about. Do you get the all-day workers?

When I was doing youth ministry back in the dark ages, I played a game with the kids to teach this passage. There was a scavenger hunt and the promise of ice cream Sundaes for the winners. When it was over, I gave ice cream Sundaes to everyone. Oh, the whining and grumbling. The winners cried UNFAIR; we won. And I said, ‘And I promised you ice cream and you got ice cream. What is to you if I choose to share my ice cream with the others?


You see, I think the problems begin when we get competitive and comparative. The all -day workers did not care about the ones who were hired late. They did not consider the fact that they too had families at home with no food. Sort of like healthy college kids not wearing masks or social distancing because they think they will not get sick so who cares about grandma and grandpa?

It was the same for those grumbling Hebrews in the wilderness. It was not enough to have what you needed. They wanted to have MORE than someone else. What if it’s not there tomorrow? I need a nest egg. I need security! Likewise, the workers in the vineyard who wanted more. The owner of the vineyard says, “Did you not get what I promised you? Did you not get what you needed?” Envy is ugly business isn’t it?

This passage is not a lesson on labor laws. It is a lesson about God’s grace. In both stories, everyone gets what they need. We can never work long enough or hard enough to deserve God’s grace. It is freely given to all. A preacher and a cab driver died on the same day. In heaven, the cab driver was assigned a huge mansion while the preacher got a small apartment. The preacher complained. St. Peter explained. Up here we go by results. When you preached people slept. When he drove, people prayed. Absolutely nobody deserves one of the man mansion in heaven. They say one of things we will hear a lot in heaven is What are you doing here? I would add,” What am I doing here?” Grace is the equally undeserved love of God.

Security in this life? It was never promised. We don’t pray, “Give me this day a 14% increase in my 401K. It’s “Give us, THIS DAY, our daily bread.” Give us a denarius. It’s “Give us this day enough bread from heaven for this day. That is what Moses called manna. The only place a follower of Jesus looks for security is in his grace.


The issue for the all-day workers was not just fairness, it was superiority. They grumble to the boss, “You have made them equal to us.” We said that the wage policy in the story is ridiculous. That can be said of grace as well. What is it? It’s grace. It’s radical. It’s the undeserved blessing of God. This passage is a new vision for understanding that grace. When we say the Lord’s Prayer we don’t say, “Give ME this day MY daily bread.” It is plural. Give us, ALL of us what we need.” God is no respecter of persons.


I want to close this morning with lessons I learned from the Soup kitchen. I served in a soup kitchen in D.C. for a week. We would prepare and set up and serve and clean up. The woman who ran the place was Martha. She was as bossy as any Drill Sargent. Her word was law. She was tough on the people that came to eat and the volunteers who fed them. To tell the truth, I was a little afraid of her myself. After the first time, I started to notice the distance between us volunteers and the folks who found their daily bread there.

So, I began to sit with them and talk with them. Gradually they were not just a crowd of poor people. They were Paul who had a bad leg and Juanita who never smiled and Rodger a teenager who wanted to help and Chester who was in the war and the war was still in him and Jose who could not find work and Selena who wore a constant worried look and her children who giggled a lot. Some of them were working poor. They had minimum wage jobs that did not pay enough for food and rent. So, they ate one meal a day at the kitchen. Many of them were elderly folks trying to get by on very little.

Martha found out I was sitting with the “guests” and she asked me to not do that anymore. I asked why. She said that they would try to con me or take advantage of me. They never did. But that was when I realized that they were not them as opposed to us. The distance between us was artificial. They are the ones who truly pray for daily bread and they are as deserving of God’s grace as any of us. God is zealous for the well-being of all people. We are all wilderness people standing in the need of grace. We are all in the same boat.

I have this dream where we are all standing in line at the master’s final pay station. I am somewhere in the middle of the line, but I can see the front. Do you know who was in the front of the line? Paul who did not limp and Juanita who was smiling and Rodger who was helping and Chester who was at peace and Jose who had self-respect and Selena who was giggling with her children.

Do you have enough food for today? Give thanks to the Lord for His steadfast love for all of us endures forever.



Rick Sweeney

The Reverend Dr. Richard Sweeney, Rick, is a retired Presbyterian pastor and author. Rick lives with his wife, Prudy, in Greensburg, PA.