The parable of the workers in the vineyard as politics and economics

The parable of the workers in the vineyard as politics and economics

In an earlier post I wrote about the parables of Jesus in general, and about the parable of the workers in the vineyard in particular (Matthew 20: 1-16).  In this post I go into more detail about how the parable works, and what it might mean.  Recall the parable.

Some workers come to work early in the morning, others are chosen around noon, the rest late in the day, working only an hour or two.  Yet all are paid the same wage at the end of the day, a denarius, hardly a generous wage, barely enough to live on.

Most readers have assumed that the vineyard owner is God, and that the message is that whenever people come to believe in the kingdom of God, all will receive the same reward, all will be saved.  Some equate the workers hired early in the morning with the Jews, those late in the day the gentiles, but all will be equal in the kingdom of God (Herzog, p 101).

Fundamentally unfair?

Still, there seems something fundamentally unfair about the arrangement.  As one of the workers hired early puts it to the vineyard owner, “‘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.’” (20:12)  However, once the vineyard owner is equated with God, the unfairness disappears.  In the face of eternity, what difference do a few hours make?

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What the Lord’s Prayer Really Means

What the Lord’s Prayer really means.

It’s an odd thing about the Lord’s Prayer.  Almost any religion could endorse it, or so it seems at first.

  • let heaven be the ideal for earthly governance
                      • let there be enough food for all, and let all be free of crippling debt
                      • forgive each other and God will forgive you
                      • spare us from the temptation of evil.

It was first spoken by a Jew to a Jewish audience, but it has become a Christian prayer, though there is nothing particularly Christian about it.  It became a Christian prayer because it is attributed to Jesus.

The Lord’s Prayer

Our father in heaven, hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come.  Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors.

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (Matthew 6:9-13)

The good householder

The Greek word used for father is abba (αββα), and while it is sometimes seen as equivalent to “daddy,” this is misleading, for there are other Greek diminutives for daddy, such as pappas (παππας).  The term abba is best interpreted as the head of the Jewish household.  God is the head of household earth, just as the father is the head of the family in the world Jesus was addressing.

The roles enacted by God as head of the earthly household correspond to those of the head of the family household: To help create life; to protect the members of the household; and to equitably provide for the household.

What horrifies the biblical conscience in all those cases is the inequality that destroys the integrity of the household and therefore dishonors the Householder.  In what sort of household are some members exploited by others? (Crossan, p 43)

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Why do theologians write so much?

Why do theologians write so much?  I’m going to take the case of Rudolf Bultmann because the problem is particularly acute with him, but it applies to most, including Karl Barth.  Barth’s Church Dogmatics alone is over six million words.  Together they are the most influential Protestant theologians of the 20th century.

They write so much because they are writing about what cannot be spoken, or written.  The kerygma (κήρυγμα), which means message or proclamation, refers in general to the gospels, and in Bultmann’s work to the decision to follow the message of Advent, that Christ is risen and we must choose to believe and act accordingly.

Trouble is, the kerygma is prelinguistic.

As counterintuitive as it may initially appear, the logical conclusion is that the kerygma is essentially prelinguistic. (Congdon, p 74) 

This doesn’t make words irrelevant, but it sets their limit.  If “the purpose of theology is to bring to speech the actual event in which one encounters the living God,” then Bultmann’s project is impossible.

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God and the meaning of life, part 1 of 2 parts

God and the meaning of life, part 1 of 2 parts.

This is the first of a two-part post.  This first part criticizes  a book by Tom May, A Significant Life.  Much of the book concerns why God can’t be part of the answer.  The second part is a list of things that contribute to a meaningful life.  It follows this part.

Todd May can’t imagine that God can be part of the answer to a meaningful life because God only provides objective meaning, which doesn’t exist.  His is a common error about God and the meaning of life, but it takes a philosopher to really make it confusing.  May is a philosopher.

May’s idea is that an objective answer to the meaning of life can only come from the outside, given to humans by God.  A subjective answer, on the other hand, is one which humans come up with themselves.  The distinction doesn’t work.  In fact, the whole distinction between objective and subjective meaning doesn’t work.

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The meaning of life, part 2. A list.

The meaning of life, part 2.  A list.

This is the second of a two-part post on a meaningful life.  The first post addresses the role of God in a meaningful life.  This post is more eclectic, considering a range of activities that may make life meaningful given the limits we face and the needs we have.  I write in this way because people so often talk about a meaningful life, and so seldom specify what that means.

I assume that we find meaning in activity, though there is no reason this must be the case.  A contemplative or meditative life may be deeply meaningful, but whether it is an activity I’m not sure.  In any case, it’s not included.  I also assume that meaningful activities are difficult, just as chess is more meaningful than checkers, and checkers more meaningful than tic-tac-toe (noughts and crosses).  Meaningful activities need not be impossibly difficult, however, and some difficulties, like the work required in establishing and maintaining a good sex life with one’s partner, can be fun.

One of the activities listed below would not be enough to sustain a meaningful life over the years, and some activities change so much over the years they are hardly the same thing.  Raising a child is different from the task of maintaining a loving relationship with the thirty-year-old child.  Everything I’ve said needs qualification.  Common-sense is required.  Being an excellent chess player, for example, can spoil a meaningful life if one sacrifices too much for it.

I think that a serious relationship with God is an important part of a meaningful life, but it is not required.  Atheists and agnostics may live meaningful lives, and the religious fail, particularly if religion becomes just ritual.

Good lives fail not only because we fail to pursue them properly, diligently, and within limits.  They may fail because of events beyond our control.  Aristotle thought that a good man could be made less fulfilled (eudaimon) by events beyond one’s control, but that a good man will never be completely miserable (N. Ethics 1100a34-1101a20).  I’m not sure if that’s true.  Certainly, it’s wrong in the short run.

Depression, or PTSD, make a meaningful life more difficult, but not always impossible.  Many famous writers suffered from depression (just google “writers and depression”).  But writing is not identical with a meaningful life.

Some activities that make life meaningful, not necessarily in this order.  

Continue reading The meaning of life, part 2. A list.