GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
It takes us to another one of Jesus's famous parables that's distinctive and unique to this particular gospel.
It's the parable of the workers in the vineyard, and it is found in Matthew 20:1-16.
So we are going to read through that gospel and then we will try to unpack it and interpret its meaning.
It begins in this way…Jesus said:
"For the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.
After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market place; and to them he said, `You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.' So they went.
Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same.
And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing; and he said to them, `Why do you stand here idle all day?'
They said to him, `Because no one has hired us.' He said to them, `You go into the vineyard too.'
And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, `Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.'
And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius.
Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius.
And on receiving it they grumbled at the householder, saying, `These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.'
But he replied to one of them, `Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius?
Take what belongs to you, and go; I choose to give to this last as I give to you.
Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?'
So the last will be first, and the first last."
Let’s stop there.
This is a fascinating parable in Matthew's Gospel.
Notice that we have, yet again, a parable, or a teaching, that involves money, it involves economics.
I can't help but note here that it's interesting that so many of the parables and teachings of Jesus that involve money are found in Matthew's Gospel in particular.
Just like we saw the parable of the unforgiving servant and the talents, those economic parables are often found only in Matthew's Gospel.
And you can't help but wonder if Matthew, who in chapter 10 is identified as a former tax collector, would have been drawn to the teachings of Jesus that involved money, that involved economics.
In other words, those particular parables could have easily resonated with him as a former tax collector.
So it is a kind of interesting example of how not only do you have external evidence that attributes the gospel to the apostle Matthew, you also have internal evidence in the gospel itself that corroborates the traditional attribution to the apostle, the former tax collector.
In any case, this particular parable of the workers in the vineyard revolves around the hiring of day laborers and the wages that they receive.
So just a little bit of background here.
The cultural setting that Matthew is imagining here is a situation where you would have a wealthy land owner, in this case the owner of the vineyard, who would hire out day laborers that were very common in first century Judaism.
So a day laborer was a person who would go out into the marketplace or some public place and wait around in the hopes that some wealthy landowner might come and hire them for a temporary job.
Basically the idea would be is that you would be hired for one day.
You would go out into the field — or in this case to a vineyard — during the harvest season and you would work for a day's wage and then you'd be paid that day.
So it was contract work, temporary work like that of a temp worker.
So what is described here is the vineyard owner going out at daybreak around 6 AM — “early in the morning” Matthew says — and finding some of the day laborers there in the marketplace and inviting them to come to his vineyard so that they can begin to work the vines in order to harvest the grapes.
So they start working at around 6 AM, and then as he is in need of more workers, he goes out at subsequent times.
Now the Revised Standard Version translates these literally as the third hour, the sixth hour and the ninth hour.
But what it is really referring to in contemporary parlance is he goes out again at 9 AM — that's the third hour — then he goes out again at noon — which would be the sixth hour — and then he goes out again at the ninth hour — which would be 3 PM.
And each time he goes out he brings in more laborers, as he finds these men standing idle in the marketplace, and invites them to come work in his fields.
Now you'll notice there that the last group he goes to, it says he went to them at the “11th hour.”
The 11th hour would be around 5 PM in the afternoon, and he says to them these interesting words, “why do you stand here idle all day?”
So these guys have been waiting around for work for some time and they respond to him by saying “because no one has hired us.”
And he says “okay, well you too, you come into my vineyard and work it.”
Now in those days they couldn't put up spotlights or streetlights and work in the dark, they didn’t have flashlights.
So once the sun would set, the day's work was over in the field and you would have to wait until the morning to begin again.
So these guys are called at 5 PM to come and work the field.
Now in verse eight it says that “when evening came” — which would be around 6 PM, right around sunset time — “the owner of the vineyard says to ‘call the laborers and give them their wages’, but start with the last and go toward the first.’”
I want you to feel the force of this, the difference between the first and last guys who were working the fields is pretty great when you really put it in context.
The men who were called last work from 5 PM to 6 PM, they worked for one hour in the cool of the evening.
The men who were called first worked from 6 AM to 6 PM, so they pulled a 12 hour shift in the heat of the day, as they said, “in the scorching heat,” harvesting the grapes.
And as the owner of the vineyard starts to pay them, he starts with the guys who were hired at 5 o'clock and he gives them one denarius.
Now as soon as the guys who started at 6 AM see that, their natural assumption is going to be “well if these guys got paid a denarius for one hours work, then I should make at least 12 times as much because I worked a 12-hour shift.”
Instead the master gives them each the exact same, one denarius, no matter how long they worked.
Now put yourself in the shoes of the guys who got out there at 6 AM.
I don't know if you ever pulled a day's labor out in the sun, out in the fields, outside doing yard work or whatever for 12 hours in the sun, it's not fun.
It's hard work.
And you can imagine that the guys who got there first thing in the morning were really upset, that what the master had done was unjust.
It was unfair for guys who had come in at 5 PM, to work in the cool of the evening, to get the same amount of money that they got, working through the entire day.
So what's this all about?
Well remember what Jesus did.
He began the parable by saying “this is what the kingdom of heaven is like.”
So every time Jesus gives a parable in Matthew’s Gospel — at least almost every time — he compares it to the kingdom.
It's a story that's meant to illustrate the kingdom.
And you might recall from earlier videos, as I’ve said, that there's always some kind of twist in the parables, or something unexpected in the parables.
In this case the twist is that this vineyard owner is crazy.
It seems unjust.
It seems unfair.
What person would pay someone who worked one hour the same wage as someone who worked 12 hours?
It just seems crazy.
At the very least it seems unfair, it seems unjust.
So they start to grumble at the owner of the vineyard, and his response to them is the key.
He says to them, first and foremost, I'm not unjust because you agreed with me for a denarius.
So I haven't given you any less than you said you would work for.
So he hasn't shortchanged them anything.
That is the first point.
The second point is he says I can give whatever I want to whoever I want.
In other words, am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?
So another important point here is that the owner of the vineyard here is not being unjust because it's his money.
He can give however much he would like to whomever he likes for whatever amount of work that they have performed.
And then the third point is something very interesting there.
He says “or do you begrudge me my generosity?”
Now that is the English translation, the literal Greek here says this, “is your eye evil because I am good?” The imagery there is of an envious eye.
So you will see this sometimes…the New Testament will talk about the lust of the eyes.
That's the sin of envy.
It is seeing someone else's possession, something that belongs to someone else, and desiring to take it for yourself, as if it belongs to you.
And so what the master is saying here is that you are angry because I am generous, because your heart is envious for that which does not belong to you.
That money is his, it is not yours.
It doesn’t belong to you so you have no right to judge how he distributes it.
Now what is Jesus up to in doing this?
Well it is very clear, he ends by saying “so the last will be first, and the first will be last” — which is one of his favorite refrains in the gospel.
He's talking about, in essence, how the kingdom of God turns everything upside down.
It turns our expectations about what is even just upside down.
It turns upside down our expectations about what is owed to us.
It turns them upside down as well, because God's ways are not our ways, God's thoughts are not our thoughts.
And although we like to keep strict to the principle of justice — that everyone gets what is there due — God isn’t like that.
He is generous in a way that almost seems unjust to us, that's radical, that's exorbitant, and in some cases, can seem unfair.
And it is easy to commit, in light of that, the sin of what some of the ancient Church Fathers called spiritual envy.
That is that when we look at the gifts that God gives to others, we can be jealous of those gifts, we can be envious of those gifts, in the spiritual realm and in the spiritual life, if we don't understand…. “well why has God blessed this person more than he has blessed me?”
It seems as if he's unjust.
Well we know that God is not unjust, and that's actually the entire point not just of the gospel reading, but also of the Old Testament reading.