Parables of Jesus


Parables of forgiveness

Vineyard workers

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Vineyard workers

From the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 20, Verses 1-16

The kingdom of heaven is like a landlord who went out at dawn to get workers for his vineyard. He agreed with them for a salary a day, he sent them to his vineyard. Then he left around nine in the morning, saw others standing in the square, unemployed, and said to them: go to the vineyard too; what is right I will give you. And they went. He went out again around noon, and around three, and did the same. When he came out again around five o'clock, he saw others standing there and said to them: Why are you here all day without doing anything? They answered him: Because nobody took us for a day. And he said unto them, Go also into the vineyard. When it was evening, the owner of the vineyard said to his farmer: Call the workers and give them the pay, starting from the last to the first. When it was five o'clock in the afternoon, they each received money. When the first arrived, they thought they would receive more. But they each of them received the money too. In withdrawing it, however, they murmured against the master saying: The latter worked only an hour and treated them like us, who endured the weight of the day and the heat. But the master, answering one of them, said: Friend, it is not a mistake with you. Have you not agreed with me for an amount of money? Take yours and go away. I also want to give the latter as much as you. Can't I do my things what I want? Or are you envious because I'm good? Thus the last will be first and the first, last.

Matthew parable exegesis

At the end of Chapter 19 of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus, responding to Peter, states that "anyone who has left houses, or brothers [...] for my name, will receive a hundredfold and inherit eternal life" (Mt 19 , 29); and, at the beginning of this Chapter, that "the last will be the first and the first, the last", as if to say "now that I have explained to you all that concerns the kingdom of heaven, it is clear to you what it means that" the first will be the last and the last ones the first".

In fact, the presentation of the kingdom, through the narration and explanation of the parables dedicated to them, begins in Chapter 13, with a whole series of similarities "the kingdom of heaven is similar to [...]" through which Jesus intends to make people understand what the kingdom of heaven is in meaning and substance. The parable at the beginning of Chapter 20 also begins with "the kingdom of heaven is similar to [...]": here the simile refers to a landlord, who goes out to take workers for his vineyard, and tells us that at all hours "at dawn", "around nine in the morning", "towards noon", "towards three o'clock", "towards five o'clock" the master is busy finding workers.

The insistence of this master who calls continually does not escape: an invitation that awaits an answer. Jesus therefore makes us understand that the kingdom of heaven is a call, and John also emphasizes this concept when he says "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him" (Jn 6,44). So the kingdom of heaven is a call, which precludes a response from the recipient.

Matthew precedes the call to the kingdom, described in Chapter 20, with another example that anticipates the announcement: "And behold, a man came up to him and said to him: Master, what good must I do to have eternal life? " (Mt 19:16): at a certain point, this person who was following Jesus feels called and approaches to make a change in this "call", and Jesus replies: "Come and follow me" (Mt 19:21 ). Also in this case it was a call, waiting for a reply; therefore indeed the kingdom of heaven is like this master who calls.

From the beginning, men have always received a call from God, and history bears witness to it. The people of Israel are the chosen people, the people with whom God has always dialogued to announce the way of salvation, because it is the privileged people. And "in return", this people received the mission to make known the truth of God; it is the theme of the covenant: God wants to establish a state of communion with his beloved people for the eternal salvation of the people themselves. However, history and scriptures are also witnesses of how many times this people have sometimes betrayed and broken this covenant, moving away from God. Now, based on this historical premise, Jesus tells a parable that begins with the image of the master (God ) from the early morning (from the beginning of time), looking for workers for his vineyard: he finds them (the chosen people) and with them establishes a pact (the alliance), agreeing with them for a salary a day (the promised land, eternal salvation).

What amazes is the sequel, because after completing the contract with these, the master still goes out at other times of the day, to call other workers: with the latter he does not negotiate any compensation, but says "go you too into the vineyard; I will give you what is right ". These workers respond to the call without hesitation and, although we have not signed an agreement, they accept the proposal on the basis of trust, because they believe that that master will treat them with justice. And it is even more surprising to note that the owner calls until 5:00 am, which is the last hour (the hour between 17 and 18 - called by the Romans twelfth hour - coincided with the last hour of light and therefore marked the end of the working day): also these last called accept to work in the vineyard.

At the end of the day, to all, the master gives money instead; and from this arises the remonstrance of the "firsts": the logic of the contract, or of the covenant with God, belonged to the culture of the Pharisees, and their presumption was fueled by the fact that, precisely on this contract-alliance, the unique members of the people of God, the beloved people: no matter what one was or how one behaved, a discriminating factor was only the belonging to that chosen people and the fact that, on the basis of what was agreed, they were considered "the first ". In their eyes, therefore, the master of the parable behaves in an incredible, unusual, unexpected way: he begins to pay from the "last", who represent those who approach Jesus without belonging to the tradition of the Jews, but who is not considered less worthy of receiving what was agreed with the "firsts".

Let us remember, in this regard, some passages of the Gospel when, for example, a centurion - also considered one of the "last" because he did not belong to Jewish culture - sent some Jewish elders to pray to Jesus to save his servant, and little before Jesus came to his house, he sent some friends to tell him: "Lord, do not bother yourself, I am not worthy of you entering under my roof; for this reason I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you, but You command with one word and my servant will be healed, for I am a man under authority too, and I have soldiers under me, and I say to one: Go and he goes, and to another: Come, and he comes, and to my servant: Do this, and he does it".

Upon hearing this, Jesus was admired and, addressing the crowd that followed him, said: "I tell you that not even in Israel have I found such great faith!" And the sent, when they returned home, found the servant healed. "(Lk 7: 6-10). Another example of faith without reservations is that of the woman of Syro-Phoenician origin, who threw herself at Jesus' feet to release that her daughter from the possession of an impure spirit: also she was among the "last", as not belonging to the people of Israel, but Jesus - having regard to his faith - told her: "Woman, great is your faith!".

Let it be done for you as you wish. "And from that instant his daughter was healed" (Mt 15:28). And what to say of Jesus who, at the table with Levi, did not disdain to sit next to publicans and sinners, arousing the scandal of scribes and Pharisees who said to his apostles: "How come your master eats with tax collectors and sinners ? " (Mt 9,11), that is, with those people excluded and marginalized by tradition? Yet Jesus also approaches them and also brings his word to them, his call.

Finally, the description of the call of the apostles is beautiful: while walking along the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, called Peter, and Andrew his brother, who threw the nets into the sea, and told them to follow him; without delay they left the nets and followed him; same thing was for John and Jacob. Jesus goes to look for his "workers", it is that master who goes out to call men to come into his vineyard: "Why do you stay here all day without doing anything? They answered him: Because no one took us for a day". It is aimed at disoriented men, who have lost certainties, who are wandering aimlessly; Jesus had begun to implement all this when, looking at the crowds following him, he claimed that they were "sheep without a shepherd".

Therefore, going to work in My vineyard changes the meaning of life; as the prophet Qelelet said, "I have considered the occupation that God has given to men so that they may labor. He has made everything beautiful in his time; he has also placed in their hearts the duration of time [...]. I have also noted that every effort and every success obtained is nothing but envy of one towards the other. This is also vanity, a chasing after the wind. The fool crosses his arms and devours his flesh. Better a calmly earned handful that two handfuls with torment and a race behind the wind [...]. Here is what I consider good and beautiful for man: it is better to eat and drink and enjoy the goods for every fatigue endured under the sun, in the few days of life that God gives him, because this is his part. Also to every man, to whom God grants riches and goods, he gives faculty to eat, take his part and enjoy his labor: even these it is a gift of God.

In fact, he will not think too much about the days of his life, since God occupies him with the joy of his heart". [Qo 3,10-11; 4,4-6; 5,17-18] If man answers this called, it finds a certain coherence in its daily life, otherwise it must experience that everything is relative, everything passes, everything is there and in a moment there is no more, and it will be like a twig beaten by the wind. Ecclesiastes, God has placed "in human hearts the duration of times", the meaning and the notion of eternity, why have they lost their memories? Why do they not respond to the call? They were idle, those last-minute men in the parable , because no one gave them the opportunity to answer: Jesus came for this, to help men return to the Lord's vineyard, to respond to that call, which is then the notion of eternity carved into our own hearts of creatures of God.

And what to recognize the master to those who respond to his call? Everyone receives a money for each, even the last are treated as the first, because they are those who have accepted without contracts or agreements, but only by believing in his promises without reservations that they would have received the right ("what is right, I will give it to you "): in the end, it is their obedience and trust to be compensated. The Apostles accepted the invitation, they left everything because they trusted Jesus and, not surprisingly, it is to them that Jesus promises, "when the Son of man will sit on the throne of glory, you will also sit on twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel".
(Mt 19:28).

On the other hand, however, in the parable there are also the protesters, those of the first hour, who "murmured against the master saying: The latter worked only an hour and treated them like us, who have borne the weight of the day and the heat ", as if they wanted to reproach him:" Master, you did an unjust thing, because you paid the last ones like us ". This is a presumption from Jewish tradition, which considers the elect as "the first" towards God, and the pagans as impure and sinners; but God does not regard any man as profane or unclean, he has no preferences of persons, he who accepts him fears him and observes justice (see Acts 10: 34-35): even pagans can therefore be invited to work in the vineyard , so that they can accept the call and believe in Jesus, who is the only one to have "been constituted by God as judge of the living and the dead [...] because all those who believe in him receive in his name the remission of sins" ( Acts 10: 42-43) and eternal life.