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).
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.
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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