Sep 24 – 16 Pentecost
The Laborers in the Vineyard
Background: Matthew tells the story of Jesus’ life with the most Jewish tone of the four Gospels. The text provides a clear insight into Jesus’ teaching and a moral guideline for the Christian community. This passage falls in what is postulated as the fourth of five sections in Matthew; the focus of this section is Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and ultimately his death.
Theme: A focus of Matthew chapters 19 and 20 is the development of relationships and the equivalence between the first and last called in God’s kingdom. This parable, whether read allegorically or literally, makes some radical claims about rewards and blessings. As with much of the Gospel, this section focuses on the questions of grace, mercy, and justice.
Questions to Ponder:
* Please read Matthew 20:1-16.
* Place this reading in context; where does it take place, who are the characters, what is the relationship between the characters, etc.?
* What principles do you think this parable is attempting to address?
* While it is typical to read a parable as an allegory, what might this passage be addressing about the reality of Jesus’ time? What social commentary do you think Jesus is sharing with his community?
* What was a denarius? How much was a denarius worth to the common worker? What kind of support would a denarius provide to a person or family?
* What do you find as odd about the wage the landowner promises to pay each group of workers hired during the day?
* What is known about the workers? Why might there be workers still in the marketplace after the beginning of the work day?
* What do you find odd about the landowner hiring more workers throughout the day? Wouldn’t the landowner’s need for more labor mean they are a bad planner?
* Do you think it was fair for the landowner to pay the laborers who were hired first the same amount and the landowner chose to pay those hired at the end of the work day? Why or why not?
* Do you think the landowner was being an observant Jew of his time? If so, what law might he be adhering to from the Old Testament that justified his inequality of pay for his workers?
* What is or is there a distinction between justice and fairness?
* Considering the people hired at 5 o’clock, why might the landowner have people go into the field to work since (1) they had not agreed on a salary, (2) there was little time for them to work, and (3) their presence was probably unnecessary?
* What claims does the landowner make in response to the full-day worker’s claim that they deserve more money?
* What, if anything is the difference or tension between grace and justice? Can Jesus be one without the other? Can we be one without the other?
* What commentary does this passage make about the social and economic conflicts that appeared in the ancient world? How do they address current inequalities between social and economic justice?