The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner going out at daybreak to hire workers for his vineyard. He made an agreement with the workers for one denarius a day, and sent them to his vineyard.
Writing in 1954, biblical scholar Joachim Jeremias, calls this text The Parable of the Good Employer. He sees the parable as being about salvation: the Jewish people are hired in the morning and the Gentiles at the eleventh hour. It’s a parable of warning and reckoning. Forty years ago when I first read this explanation I would have seen no problem with it, likewise the stereotyping found in his analysis of those hired last: ‘No oriental will stand for hours in the marketplace. Hence they sit down gossiping idly in the marketplace.’
Thinking has moved in biblical studies and I am most influenced by the work of Jewish New Testament scholar, Amy J Levine. Her thinking is that if you have to make Judaism look bad in order to make Christianity look good, then you have a problem. She sees this parable as enshrining a basic truth of Judaism: everyone is created in the image and likeness of God. God is generous by nature. God’s generosity cannot be limited by our own value system. We are back to the idea from the Gospel last week of the parables as an invitation to step into the world of grace. Placing ourselves firmly in the world of calculating and measuring risks missing an opportunity for grace. The call is to be generous.
This isn’t as straight forward as it may sound. In monastery living the ideal would be that each receives according to need. There is an understanding that one size doesn’t fit all and part of personal growth is trusting the process. Of course, in some circumstances, equal shares are expected. I remember my Novice Mistress commenting that with the best will in the world its hard not to scan and spot ‘injustice’. If a gift of cherries has been shared out and your portion has been put at your refectory place, you will instinctively know if your neighbour got ten and you got nine! The monastic way is to try to be at peace with that.
Where is God calling you to be generous this week?