Friday, June 27, 2003

The Unexpected Hanging

What follows is my adaptation of a tale that I read from Martin Gardner's book The Unexpected Hanging (New York, Simon and Schuster, 1969) p. 11-23.

The point of the following story is logic, language, and their limitations. You could, of course, bring in all kinds of extraneous information into the story, to escape the logic part, but that is cheating. The story is a fabrication to highlight  a problem, so the rules are that you have to take the story elements as they are and deal with the contradiction.

The Sentence

There was a man who had committed a serious murder. He was convicted, in spite of a high priced lawyer, and came before the judge for sentencing. Now the judge was known to be a man of his word. And when the convict came before him, the judge decided that he not only needed to pay the final cost, but that he should sweat over it.

"You are hereby sentenced to death by hanging. You will be hung on one of the next seven days and on a day that you do not expect."

The sentence was given on a Saturday and the possible days for the execution were, therefore, Sunday through the following Saturday.

The man returned to his cell in dismay. But his lawyer followed him with a big smile on his face.

"What are you smiling about?", asked the convict.

"Relax, kid.", said the lawyer, "The judge cannot possibly hang you."

"Why not?"

"Because, ", the lawyer continued, "If you are alive Friday afternoon, you know the hanging has to be on Saturday. You would be expecting the hangman the next day, which violates the conditions of the sentence that it be on a day that you do not expect. You cannot be hung on Saturday."


"So let's say that you are alive on Thursday afternoon. The judge cannot send the executioner to you on Saturday, so he has to send him on Friday. It is again, an expected event."

"Come on!"

"So Saturday is ruled out, and Friday is ruled out. Let's say that you are alive on Wednesday."

"I see! The judge would have to hand me on Thursday, because Saturday and Friday are not legal days according to the sentence. So Thursday is ruled out."

"Yes, and so are Wednesday, Tuesday, Monday, ..."

"And tomorrow. Thanks counselor. I am not a condemned man after all"

Of course, the story becomes more than an academic exercise from the fact that the following Saturday, the hangman arrived, and the convict, expecting to be a free man, did not expect him to come. The judge was true to his word.


For those of you who are offended at using capital punishment as the basis of a story, I point you to this earlier post and suggest that you get over it for the sake of civilization--and the post is not a defense of capital punishment.

Logic and language failed the criminal. The very day that was easiest to refute as a possible day for a hanging became the very unexpected day, as could any of them. In the original telling, in Martin Gardner's book, the man was executed on Wednesday. But it occurred, some time later, that the logic exercise, in fact, made Saturday a possible day. Proving that Saturday was an "expected" day made it  an "unexpected day."

It is helpful to remember how easily logic and language can fail. Centuries ago, Zeno proved that motion did not exist. He, of course, did not do this to really show that motion did not exist: after all he was moved his pen while writing that it could not be moved.

The universe has a double-edged reality to it that has caused Christians a great deal of mental pain. On the one side of the reality is God's real sovereignty, as plainly stated in these verses:

What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth." So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. (Romans 9:14-18, NASB)

Read Romans 9 through 11 and note the number of times Paul refers to God's choice. The above segment, from this broader section in Romans, is one that Paul knows will trigger screams of protest in his readers. Consequently, he immediately addresses that reaction:

You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? (Romans 9:19-20)

Note the full paradox in these words of Paul, "Who are you who answers back to God?" In these words Paul moves the reader away from pre-determinism to free moral choice!! He says, in effect, "Here is a truth, how are you going to respond to it?" Even now, as I write this, you should recognize implicitly the double-edged truth here, because you are in the throes of making such a moral choice.

Let me say it another way, Paul writes, "He hardens whom He desires." That truth can initiate a hardening of the reader's heart, "Why does He still find fault?" and Paul then commands, "So don't harden your heart."

Logic and language fail. God's sovereignty and man's choice are both true and find their resolution in eternity. Each truth has its place in our lives. The world needs to hear the gospel and people need to choose and accept Jesus as their savior. Once they have done so, they have been chosen from before the foundation of the world. On the other hand, when life is crashing down around our ears and life is not making sense, the only comfort that is possible is that God is in control of the situation. That is the lesson, in part, of the book of Job. God takes credit for destroying the good things in Job's life and watches as Job, with His help, moves to choose and accept God's sovereignty.

These are truths to live by. They are truths to hang us up.


There will be no posts Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of next week. For those of you are regular, I would suggest visiting some past topics. Here are some recommendations:

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Day Labor in the Vineyard -- Part 4

The parable of the laborers in the vineyard is not a feel good story. This series of lessons has been exploring it to fully understand its meaning. If you are just joining this brief study, you should start at the beginning. Click here to do so.

As I have shown, the rich young man who came to Jesus asking, "what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” had a day laborer mentality when it came to the Kingdom of God. The man wanted eternal life, and he was willing to work for it. But he was not interested in the giver. I have asserted that the parable of the laborers in the vineyard is about that mentality.

Today I want to spend a little more time on the landowner and our choices.

The Landowner

The attitude of the day laborers in the vineyard was to work, get paid, and go home. The early workers received that for which they bargained. The landowner, on the other hand, was generous and gave all the other workers, regardless of hours worked, what they needed to take home and feed their families. In the context of the payment desk, what the landowner did seems unfair. But what would you have thought if he had not hired any other groups of workers, but had sought them out afterwards and gave them what they needed? It is obvious that such a scenario somehow does not create the problems the parable does. But, what substantive difference, really, is there between obtaining a little work and being generous and just being generous?

The landowner was being consistent with principles in the Old Testament. Below, I give a commandment and then an historical illustration of the commandment in practice:

‘Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:9-10, NASB)

At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here, that you may eat of the bread and dip your piece of bread in the vinegar.” So she sat beside the reapers; and he served her roasted grain, and she ate and was satisfied and had some left. When she rose to glean, Boaz commanded his servants, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not insult her. Also you shall purposely pull out for her some grain from the bundles and leave it that she may glean, and do not rebuke her.” (Ruth 2:14-16)

Boaz's compassion towards Ruth's situation always amazes me. You can see how he puts the full spirit of the Levitical commandment into practice. You should also be able to see the same of the landowner in Jesus' parable. As the landowner was generous and merciful to all the workers, so our God is generous and merciful to us.

The Better Path

I wrote yesterday that those like Peter who have "left everything" to follow Jesus do not figure in Jesus' parable. That is not strictly true. To be sure, they are not mentioned in the parable, but they are implicitly there. The landowner does not need day laborers everyday. For the day in and day out operations, he would have his own family and his servants. When the landowner went to find more workers in the market place, the family and the servants would already be in the vineyard working. It is possible that they continued to work even after the day labor quit for the day. As Jesus said:

“Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come immediately and sit down to eat’? But will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink’? He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he?  So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’” (Luke 17:7-10)

Of course, many of the servants would be longing for their freedom, but the Scriptures speak of another kind of slave:

“If your kinsman, a Hebrew man or woman, is sold to you, then he shall serve you six years, but in the seventh year you shall set him free. When you set him free, you shall not send him away empty-handed. You shall furnish him liberally from your flock and from your threshing floor and from your wine vat; you shall give to him as the Lord your God has blessed you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today. It shall come about if he says to you, ‘I will not go out from you,’ because he loves you and your household, since he fares well with you; then you shall take an awl and pierce it through his ear into the door, and he shall be your servant forever. Also you shall do likewise to your maidservant. It shall not seem hard to you when you set him free, for he has given you six years with double the service of a hired man; so the Lord your God will bless you in whatever you do. (Deuteronomy 15:12-18)

At the end of six years, a slave could either leave with back-pay or join the team as a permanent slave. Such slaves have committed themselves to their masters interests. It is no wonder, then, that Paul, James, Peter, Jude, and John all referred to themselves as bondslaves of Jesus Christ. They were not day laborers in the Kingdom, but workers dedicated to its success.

That is what Jesus offered to the rich young man. He told him to sell everything that he had and to come and follow. He could join the team and be part of the Kingdom and seek its welfare. We we choose to do so, our years of service are "worth double the service of a hired man" and yet at the end of the day, we will say, "I only did what I ought to have done." This is the better path and the path that promises great satisfaction.


And here we come to God's fabulous economy. The first shall be last. The day laborers who work all day with their eye in the end of the day and the single denarius that the landowner will owe them will find themselves embittered. They were the first hired, the last paid, and the least satisfied. The bond-slaves, who worked much harder and had no freedom, will eventually come to rule the vineyard.

Are you working for a denarius or for the vineyard?

Friday: The Paradox of the Unexpected Hanging

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Day Labor in the Vineyard -- Part 3

The parable of the laborers in the vineyard is not a feel good story. This series of lessons has been exploring it to fully understand its meaning. If you are just joining this brief study, you should start at the beginning. Click here to do so.

The commentators have suggested different coinage, different work ethics, pharisaical attitudes, and concepts of eternal life to solve the puzzle of this parable. As I showed yesterday, none of these interpretations are completely satisfactory. I have derived a personally satisfactory answer, that involves the broader context of this parable. One of the reasons that more students of the Scriptures have not also seen this has to do with chapter divisions in the Bible.

Chapter and verse divisions in the Bible are arbitrary. They are useful for lookup and cross-reference, but there is nothing necessarily significant to them. Sometimes they can even hide significance. Take the current situation. Compare the last line of Matthew 19 with the last line of our parable:

“But many who are first will be last; and the last, first.” (Matthew 19:30, NASB)

“So the last shall be first, and the first last.” (Matthew 20:16)

The parable is a continuation of a situation whose beginnings are in chapter 19, but none of the commentaries that I have read on this parable link the parable to the situation. There is a double whammy here. Chapter 20 starts a story. It is one of the parables of Jesus and we tend to treat His parables as self-contained. However, it should now be clear that this parable is part of a broader story.

So let's go backwards and see where we get to. Starting with the context of why Jesus first said, "But many who are first will be last, and the last, first."

Then Peter said to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?” And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last; and the last, first." (Matthew 19:27-30)

So Jesus relates His parable on the heals His answer to Peter's question, but there does not seem to be a good connection between the two. On the other hand, it is obvious that Peter's remarks are, themselves, part of a larger context. Let's go backwards one more time:

And someone came to Him and said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” 

And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 

Then he said to Him, “Which ones?” 

And Jesus said, “You shall not commit murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; You shall love your neighbor as yourself"/p>

The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” 

Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 

But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property. And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God .” 

When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?” And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:16-26)

The incident with this young man who comes to Jesus asking what "good thing shall I do", prompts Peter to ask his question. The young man could not let go of his goods, but Peter and the others had. They had left everything, to follow Jesus. Notice how these events flow into the telling of the parable: First, the rich young man and his questions, then Jesus' commentary on why the rich young man walked away, followed by Peter asking how it will be different for the disciples. It seems to me, then, that verses 29 and 30 are important transitional verses:

“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last; and the last, first." (Matthew 19:29-30)

Let me suggest to you, that the parable has no direct application to anyone "who has left houses or brothers" etc.. Jesus talks of their reward and then uses the word "but" to distinguish another group. That group is the "many" of verse 30, and the attitude of the rich young ruler is our key to who the "many" are.

Relating the Rich Young Man to the Workers in the Vineyard

The rich young man is very much like the first workers hired by the landowner.  This is the key to understanding the parable. I suggest to you the symbolism in this parable breaks down like this:

  • The landowner is, in fact, the Lord God, and His generosity is one of the main points of the parable.
  • The vineyard represents the work God wants accomplished on earth.
  • The hired workers represent Christians who contribute to the work of God, but have no personal concern for it. Instead their interests lie outside the welfare of the vineyard.
  • The denarius represents basic daily provisions, including eternal life, given to all such workers by a generous God.

The rich young man wanted a good thing: eternal life. It is clear, however, that he was more interested in eternal life than the giver of eternal life. He fell short in his understanding. By asking, "What good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?", he was asking, "How can I obligate God to give me eternal life on my terms?" By not wanting to follow Jesus, but only wanting to obey the Torah, the rich young man exhibited the mentality of a day laborer toward the kingdom of God. If his words were honest, he had in fact worked harder at his obedience than most. At the end of the day, however, salvation is God's gift to all Christians.

What were the workers in the vineyard after? They were after daily bread for themselves and their families. The landowner knew this. He was, therefore, gracious to pay a day's wage to all. The landowner was paying according to need, not remuneration for labor.

The following letter illustrates a hired hand mentality in a believer:

Dear Mr. Torrey,

I am in great perplexity. I have been praying for a long time for something I am confident is according to God's will, but I do not get it. I have been a member of the Presbyterian church for thirty years, and have tried to be a consistent one all that time. I have been superintendent in the Sunday school for twenty-five years, and an elder in the church for twenty years, and yet God does not answer my prayer and I cannot understand it. Can you explain it to me?

Neither the "hard labor" of this letter writer, the hot back-breaking work of the vineyard laborers, nor the disciplined self-determined obedience of the rich young man obligate God or the landowner. The landowner's heart and interest is his vineyard, not the hired men. The Lord God's interest is His kingdom, not workers whose interests lie outside the kingdom. The parable of the workers in the vineyard is about varying degrees of work done by those whose lives are separate from the welfare of the vineyard. By extension, there are believers who work hard and do useful work for the kingdom of God, but are not committed to its welfare.

They are the day laborers of the Kingdom. There are many varieties. There are the "Name It and Claim It" brand who look for scripture promises God has to keep. There are the "Success through Salvation and Spirit" brand who measure spirituality by worldly goods. There are others who believe that God must have some special little word for them for all the trouble they've had putting up with those around them. There are some who feel they have put up with more than their share of life's troubles; Surely God has an extra measure of 'rest' or satisfaction for them.

Dare I ask you, "What accounting are you keeping for your extra labor? What extra miles have you walked? What does God owe you that's special?"

I am not done with this. Tomorrow I will show the other path.

Thursday: The other path

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Day Labor in the Vineyard -- Part 2

I left off yesterday with several workers who felt very insulted indeed. They had been the first to work and the last to be paid. They were paid a denarius for working 10 hours, but there were others who were paid a denarius for working 1 hour. When they complained, they were forced to admit that the landowner had fulfilled the contract and they had no right complain.

Do you feel good about the situation? Would you have been comforted by the landowners words?

Although I have not read anyone else say this, I think that it is nonetheless true. You are not supposed to feel good about the situation. The fact that the parable is about the Kingdom of Heaven and God leaves you no option but to find a real peace about the landowners dealings with the laborers.

What the Commentators Say

You need to feel the dilemma this parable presents. It is the tension created by the story that carries Jesus; teaching and purpose. Jesus begins this parable by saying, "The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out ..."  All agree that the landowner represents God. So, is the landowner just in what he did?  Is God just if he does likewise in a similar situation?  What is this similar situation?  All interpretations of this parable seek to resolve the tension it creates. 

Some commentators resolve the tension by arguing that the denarius paid to each group had a different value. This view says that the earliest workers were paid with gold coins, the middle groups with silver, and the last workers were paid with bronze coins. This view, besides being desperate, is easy to discount for two reasons: first, there is no archeological evidence for such coinage; second, there is no evidence in the parable for it. The landowner even says, "I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you."

Other commentators argue that the later workers were better workers than the first. In this view, the early workers goofed off, ate more than they picked, and made frequent runs to the water trough. The last workers, however, made up for the laziness of the first. To back up this argument, the commentators reason that the landowner had to continually go and hire new workers, because the first crew did not do their share. If they had, the landowner would not have had to go hire more. Because the landowner agreed to pay the first crew a denarius, he kept his word and did so. This view is more plausible than the idea of different coins, but it still suffers from a lack of internal evidence. If this was the crucial point, the story would state it. The landowner would have said, "My friend, you goofed off, but these others busted their backs to make up for you." 

In spite of the discomfort it causes, it is hard to escape the central dilemma of this story. The landowner paid someone who only worked an hour the same as someone who worked 10. Not only that, he clearly says that it is a matter of his choice and right to do so. It is not a matter of fairness, nor of good labor relations, but of his generosity. So, what might that teach us about God and the kingdom of heaven?  What does it teach us about living lives for Messiah?

Before giving my view, there are two more interpretations I want to mention. Some see the grumbling workers as Pharisees whose zeal and hard work for the law and tradition made them believe they would have a greater reward. This view draws a parallel between the grumbling workers and the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son. This view has some merit, but the Pharisees worked against Jesus and against His Father, but those workers who worked all day did the landowner good.

By far the most popular view equates being hired with salvation. Those who hired on early are those who believe early in life. Those who hired on in the last hour are those who believe in Messiah at death's door. The denarius represents eternal life, which is given generously without regard to works. This is the view I held for a long time. Its main problem is that it excludes the concept of a believer's reward for good works. As Paul writes:

According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:10-15, NASB)

Indeed--and this begins to foreshadow my own development--the very verses prior to this parable has this exchange between Jesus and Peter:

Then Peter said to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?” And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last; and the last, first. (Matthew 19:27-30)

So Jesus speaks of great reward for leaving everything to follow Him, and then He says, "But many who are first will be last; and the last, first." The connection with the parable is obvious, because the parable closes with the same first-last-last-first formula. There is no equality in these words of Jesus. Beyond salvation, He will give according to what we have done (or perhaps left behind). Clearly some will receive from Jesus more than others. This verse and many others directly contradict the idea of equal reward for unequal effort toward the kingdom of God. As I will show, the parable does, in fact, have application close to the idea of salvation without works, but there are other clues in the broader context that let us know what Jesus is teaching here. And that I will pick up tomorrow.

Wednesday: The Structural Hiding of Information

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

Monday, June 23, 2003

Day Labor in the Vineyard -- Part 1

Jesus often used stories to teach. And they were memorable. Most of us would easily remember the tale of The Prodigal Son, The Good Samaritan, The Talents, and so forth. Most of these stories connect with our sense of right and wrong. They may challenge us to do better, but they do not challenge our sense of what is right and what is wrong. That is not the case with the story that I plan to cover these next few days. It comes from Matthew 20:

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. When he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the market place; and to those he said, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ And so they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did the same thing. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day long?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ 

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last group to the first.’ 

“When those hired about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius. When those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.’ 

“But he answered and said to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’ 

“So the last shall be first, and the first last.” (Matthew 20:1-16, NASB)

The Early Workers

Most assume the hired men picked grapes, although the story does not say.  You should know, however, that constructing and maintaining a vineyard was one of the most labor intensive activities in Israel.  Unlike grain fields, the vineyards were completely enclosed with a stone fence to keep out animals and thieves.  The owner had to construct one or more watch towers to guard the gates.  He had to bring in large stones, arrange them next to each other in rows, and train young vines to follow them.  The plants needed constant pruning and cultivation.  New plants took years of this care before they bore fruit.  The wine presses were not wooden tubs as you might picture.  They were hewn out of solid rock.  Consequently, it doesn't matter whether the landowner hired men to chisel, pick, prune, dig, move, or stomp, the work was hard.

Assuming, however, the landowner hired harvest help.  The September harvest days were still hot.  The work day was from 6:00 in the morning to 6:00 in the evening.  Subtracting time off for rests and lunch, everybody worked about 10 hours.  Through most of the year, the vineyard could be tended by the servants and possibly a few regular hired hands, but, during harvest, the landowner needed extra help to pick the grapes at their peek.  Early in the day, he would send his servants to the vineyard to begin work, while he went to the marketplace to get help.  This is the backdrop for the parable before us.

To feel the full force of the bad feelings felt by those who hired on first, imagine yourself to be one of the first workers hired.  Your day would go something like this:

You wake up early, maybe 4:30 in the morning, and rush to the marketplace.  It is harvest time, there will be many other men looking for work there.  If you get there early, you will have a better chance to be hired.  If you're hired, it will mean payment of a denarius or a day's wage.  It will also mean, according to the Torah, that you could eat your fill today while you work.  If you are not hired, you will go both hungry and unpaid.  Your family will not have all it needs to live on.

One landowner sees you and asks you to work in the vineyard.  You agree to work for a denarius, and he hires you on the spot.  You feel good.  The day is going well.

When you arrive in the vineyard, you see the servants already working.  You see that this is a good harvest.  You see row after row of vines draped on large rocks.  In the cool of the morning, the work goes easy.  Shortly after 9:00 another group of workers arrives, and another shortly after noon.  The day is getting hot.  Your hands get sticky, sweat drips in your eyes, your back begins to ache, and the bugs come to fly around you and bite.  You still have the second half of the day ahead of you.  A denarius just barely provides what you need each day.  As the day goes on you wish that such hard work could earn a better living, but nobody ever pays more than denarius, and this is better than begging.

Shortly after 3:00 in the afternoon, a fourth group of workers shows up.  You see why this is good.  Without the extra help, all the grapes could not be picked. 

Most of the day is over, you begin to look forward to the end.  At 5:00, with only a single hour's work left, another group of workers arrive.  At 6:00 work is halted, you stand up straight and walk to the table where the foreman will hand out the day's wage.  This is funny: the foreman asks you to wait at the end of the line.  You look all the way to the front, and you can easily see how the line is organized.  In the front, there is an unruffled group who clearly only worked the last hour.  From the front to the back each man seems to take on deeper and deeper purple hues.  For some reason, even though you have worked the longest and would like to go home soon, you will be paid last.

Up ahead you can see the foreman hand a denarius to each man who only worked an hour.  This encourages you.  You've worked 10 times as long as they.  The landowner must be glad for the large harvest and is paying everyone extra.  When your turn comes, however, the foreman hands you a denarius and tells you this is what he paid everybody.

What are you to think?  You have worked harder than anyone else.  You have picked more grapes than anyone else.  Surely the landowner benefited more from your work than from those few who only worked an hour.  They had only begun to warm up and get good at it, before they could quit.  They didn't even have to stand in line very long.  They spent most of their time eating.

Three Insults

I think you will agree with me that you and the other early workers feel a threefold insult.  The first insult is being sent to the end of the pay line.  After working hard all day, you had to stand and wait longer than anyone else to be paid.  The second insult is being paid the same as men who only worked one hour to your ten and who hardly had to wait in line.  The third insult is being called envious when you complain.  You have no legal case, but in your heart you really feel you have an over-arching moral complaint falling on deaf ears.

What is Jesus trying to teach here? In providing an answer, I will look at what the commentators have had to say. Then I will actually connect this story to its context and develop a more fitting answer. 

Tuesday: What the Commentators Say.

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