Our 50th kingdom text is found in Matthew 20:1: 1 ?For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. 3 ?About the third hour 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 the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. 6 About the eleventh hour 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 the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came 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 men 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, ?Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the man 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.?.
1. Again, kingdom is parabolized: it is like the situation of a man hiring workers at different times and calling them all into the office for pay at the end of the day where each person gets the same pay. Some grumble; some are thrilled. The owner replies rather pointedly that he had lived up to his bargain and so had they. Further, he has the right to pay what he wants. And he calls attention to his generosity (NIV). And the last line shows that the point of it all is that the last are first and the first last — a kind of turning of the tide.
2. The parable is much disputed; we’ll look at it later this year when we proceed through Klyne Snodgrass’ new book on parables (beginning tomorrow: Stories with Intent).
3. We are concerned with kingdom: the kingdom is like this situation somehow. How so? It is like a generous owner handing out more to some than to others, though each gets both what he/she deserves and the same as others. Or, it is not like one thinks “justice” is for this owner isn’t concerned with quid pro quo. Or, since God is generous, the focus is on the inclusion of those who are presently excluded from kingdom realities.
My own view is that this parable critiques a justice system based on merit — that one gets, and should get, what one has earned. Jesus teaches that God’s grace deconstructs the simplistic justice system (without denying the justice system as having value).