Problem with Inequality–Laborers in the Vineyard

You may have heard the parable of the laborers in the vineyard taught by Jesus. Here is how the

Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard: Worker...

parable goes:

Matthew 20,  The Message

A Story About Workers
1-2 “God’s kingdom is like an estate manager who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. They agreed on a wage of a dollar a day, and went to work. 3-5″Later, about nine o’clock, the manager saw some other men hanging around the town square unemployed. He told them to go to work in his vineyard and he would pay them a fair wage. They went.
5-6 “He did the same thing at noon, and again at three o’clock. At five o’clock he went back and found still others standing around. He said, ‘Why are you standing around all day doing nothing?’

7 “They said, ‘Because no one hired us.’  He told them to go to work in his vineyard.

8 “When the day’s work was over, the owner of the vineyard instructed his foreman, ‘Call the workers in and pay them their wages. Start with the last hired and go on to the first.’

9-12 “Those hired at five o’clock came up and were each given a dollar. When those who were hired first saw that, they assumed they would get far more. But they got the same, each of them one dollar. Taking the dollar, they groused angrily to the manager, ‘These last workers put in only one easy hour, and you just made them equal to us, who slaved all day under a scorching sun.’

13-15 “He replied to the one speaking for the rest, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair. We agreed on the wage of a dollar, didn’t we? So take it and go. I decided to give to the one who came last the same as you. Can’t I do what I want with my own money? Are you going to get stingy because I am generous?’

16 “Here it is again, the Great Reversal: many of the first ending up last, and the last first.”

So,  what are we to make of this parable–actually one of the most perplexing of Jesus’ parables to me.  Perplexing because I just did not understand the point.  That is the main point to remember about Jesus’ parables–they all have a main point and every nuance in the parable is not to be interpreted.

Then,  I read Henry Nouwen’s explanation and I SEE what Jesus was up to.  You know He did not want just everybody to understand Him.  He wanted those the Father wanted to be close to Him and to understand.

Why didn’t the landowner pay those who worked many long hours first and then suprise the latecomers with his generosity?  Why, instead, does he pay the workers of the eleventh hour first, raising false expectations in the others and creating unnecessary bitterness and jealousy?  These questions, I now realize, come from a perspective that is all too willing to impose the economy of the temporal on the unique order of the divine.

What if the Jesus’ point was that the landowner might have wanted the workers of the early hours to rejoice in his generosity to the latecomers.  “It never crossed my mind that he might have acted on the supposition that those who had worked in the vineyard the whole day would be deeply grateful to have had the opportunity to do work for their boss, and even more grateful to see what a generous man he is.”  This view “…requires an interior about-face to accept such a non-comparing way of thinking.  But that is God’s way of thinking.  God looks at his people as children of a family who are happy that those who have done only a little bit are as much loved as those who accomplish much.”

And, so, Nouwen helps me change my approach.  Jesus’ approach is not the usual human approach.  God’s approach is not the typical human approach.  “God’s ways are not our ways” and neither are “His thoughts. our thoughts.”

Acting it out, this is one of the best acts on youtube illustrating

Quotes are from Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son.


2 thoughts on “Problem with Inequality–Laborers in the Vineyard

  1. Pingback: Return of the Prodigal Son 2 « The Good News

  2. Pingback: Return of the Prodigal Son: Meet the Younger Son « The Good News

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