For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. Matthew 20:1 (NIV)
The End of the Day – The Unfair Series – Part 2
An allegory is a story that requires a key, kind-of like algebra. Just figure out who ‘X’ is and you can figure out who ‘a, b, and c’ are, too. And that will reveal the one, true, hidden message of the story.
That’s not the case with the “Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard” (Matt 20:1-16).
Some believe that God is the Landowner who owns a vineyard that needs to be worked and harvested. God “hires” (salvation) us, starting with his chosen people (Israelites), then he collects any and everyone (Gentiles and the unclean) he can find at the market (world), and those he hired last get the same pay as those hired first; one denarius (heaven). Cos you know, that’s how it works.
But that role assignment only works if the hidden message of the parable is about heaven-entry. But it doesn’t really add up… if the vineyard is the Kingdom of Heaven, and heaven is payment, why are the workers sent home at the end of the day? Why aren’t the workers in the square given more details so we would know what type of people they are?
The 6am hirelings aren't called “the righteous ones.” The 9am ones aren’t called “less righteous…” Likewise, the 12pm and 3pm workers are not mentioned to be any different from those hired earlier: they’re not sick, outcasts, sinners, not even Gentiles… they just weren’t hired. Same with those hired at 5pm. They were all just workers waiting to be hired. One denarius wasn’t an exorbitant amount of money; it was just a normal day's wage. It would have given someone enough to put food on the table for a few days. Can we liken that to eternity?
Ancient Hebrew tradition wasn’t as exclusive as we might think. This isn’t a parable telling the Jewish community that they needed to expand their “belonging” rites. (1)
As we know, parables don’t contain one meaning. They’re not neat and tidy little stories. They're loaded with drama and reflection; they change when you look at them in a different light. They're not meant to be an equation, they're supposed to be a disruption.
And as far as character assignment goes, Jesus leaves that determination up to us so that any time we enter into this parable, we could take on the role of any given character: landowner, worker picked first, worker picked in the middle, worker picked last. Take your ‘pick' and relish it; tomorrow it could change…
Because the Kingdom of Heaven is like what happens in this story. It’s not like going to work in a vineyard, it’s not like waiting to be picked for work, it’s not being paid at the end of the day. It’s like the same grace falling on each and every person. And trying to be OK with it when you feel you’re owed more than what you got cos someone who worked less got the same as you. Or when you feel you received more than what you earned, because someone who worked harder got the same as you. What if the Kingdom of Heaven is a place where we’re all provided for no matter how much we’ve been able, or asked, or hired, to contribute? What if it's a Kingdom that doesn't run on merit?
“What if we saw it [this parable] as about what God would have us do not to earn salvation, but to love our neighbor?” (2).
Which character are you now?
Written by Liz Milani