Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Keys of the Kingdom 39

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).

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posted February 28, 2008 at 5:07 am

I am looking forward to the later discussion on this confusing parable.
But in the context of the present series it seems to me that the parable is in line with a strong thread that obliterates any notion of kingdom of God as a meritocracy or an aristrocracy. The kingdom of God is radically open and radically egalitarian.

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Scot McKnight

posted February 28, 2008 at 8:42 am

Yes, obliterating meritocracy and aristocracy, but much in the parable shifts because our eyes are on the owner (God) who does something unusually generous. So, generosity gets the first dance.

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posted February 28, 2008 at 9:21 am

Donald Garland writes about how the parable jolts many from their many assumptions.
a. he counfounds those who expect justice from God. expected is reward and punishment.
b. he frustrates the pious who look forward to preferiential treatment.
c. he jolts those who would draw a connection between those last called into the vineyard and the gentiles. offending some who held that Israel’s long covenant with God earned them no favored treatment.
d. no one will have seniority in the kingdom offending anyone who believes hard work will pay off.
(Reading Matthew, Donald E. Garland, Smith and Helwys Publishing, 2001)
I like his take because he confronts many who hold points of view that interfere with the kingdom.

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posted February 28, 2008 at 5:17 pm

I don’t see eyes on God’s generosity as the emphasis here. While the parable does not deal with reward and punishment it does deal with the basis for reward in the kingdom.
The kingdom of heaven is like a situation where all who are in the kingdom are rewarded – none more than others. This is not so much radical generosity as radical egalitarianism. Male, female, Jew, Gentile, slave, free, child, adult, professor, student, faculty worker, priest, pastor, layperson, monk … all are radically equal in the kingdom.

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posted March 2, 2008 at 11:37 am

I agree about the merit-based system. The workers were paid for responding to the call – for working with what time they had, not for doing the most work. If God looks into our hearts, then really what more did the first workers do than the last? They all responded by counting the cost and doing the work.
Aside from the personal spectrum, it seems like this could be applied culturally – where Israel is represented by the first workers and then the same offer is extended to gentiles. Though they came late in the game and maybe did less work, they were extended the same grace.

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