20 1“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went.
“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.
“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’
9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Footnote: A denarius is considered ancient Roman money
Before reading any further in this post take a moment to re-read Matthew 20:1-16 and think about this question. The parable of the laborers in the vineyard is about ____________________.
If you are anything like me you could re-read this parable a couple of times and come up with a slightly different angle on it, depending on the word or phrase you use to summarize the story.
The complexity to the way the biblical text will strike us. When I read and reread this parable. So, to answer our question:
The parable of the laborers in the vineyard is about the 9th and 10th commandment. In a very real sense this parable is about coveting. While “covet” (e.g., desire or yearn) may not seem the most obvious word to describe what is going on here, it does fit both the emphasis of Jesus’ teaching and the overarching emphasis in Matthew on the Law and Jesus’ representation of it in a way that transforms our thinking and doing.
We fantasize about what God chooses to give to others. A parable is essentially a carefully worded story. We are invited to see ourselves in the story, and then apply it to ourselves. The wages at stake are not actual daily wages for vineyard-laborers, but forgiveness, life, and salvation for believers. We do not need to be laborers in a vineyard, as all of us are co-workers in God’s kingdom (1 Corinthians 3:9).
The relationship from one believer to another, our greed is a problem. The point here isn’t necessarily that other persons receive blessings from God that we don’t. The problem is that they get the same as us; and we think they don’t deserve it, do they? They are less worthy or arrived later, or just plain worse sinners. They don’t deserve the same as we get, do they? Not nothing maybe, but certainly not the same. The parable’s day laborers parallel perfectly with today’s forgiven-sinners.
We have a tendency, as the parable clearly illustrates, to want and to be resentful of what others receive in life. The owner of the vineyard asks those who have worked the longest and hardest for him, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” The point is that God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness are God’s to give away as God sees fit. The parable of the laborers in the vineyard is about coveting, about our frustration with the grace of God as it applies to others and not us.
The scandal of this parable is that we are all equal recipients of God’s gifts. The scandal of our faith is that we are often desperately want and are jealous of when God’s gifts of forgiveness and life are given to others in equal measure.
1. What do you think?
2. Do you think people like Donald Trump should receive the same as us? Why or why not? Who are we to decide?
3. Connect with me…