The Parable of the Workers of the Vineyard

Amy-Jill Levine has this to say about the Parable of the Workers of the Vineyard in her post on CNN’s Belief Blog. She writes,

This parable tells the story of a series of workers who come in at different points of the day, but the owner pays them all the same amount.

The parable is sometimes read with an anti-Jewish lens, so that the first-hired are the “Jews” who resent the gentiles or the sinners entering into God’s vineyard. Nonsense again.

Jesus’ first listeners heard not a parable about salvation in the afterlife but about economics in present. They heard a lesson about how the employed must speak on behalf of those who lack a daily wage.

They also discovered a prompt for people with resources: Attend to those who do not have jobs, and make sure everyone has what is needed.

Jesus does not invent this idea of advocating for the unemployed and sharing resources. The same concerns occur in Jewish tradition from King David onward. But, unless we know the biblical and historical sources, again we will mishear the parable.

I will grant that the Jewish-Gentile distinction which she sets up as an erroneous original application is likely. Her interpretation of the parable seems to expose her modern sensibilities. Just as Jesus was not fomenting Jewish-Gentile antipathy, neither was he agitating Class-Employment distinctions. Resentment, entitlement, and an aversion to Grace? That’s universal, and that is what Jesus was addressing.

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