This passage occurs in both the Revised Common Lectionary and the Narrative Lectionary (most recently September 2020).
Summary: Tough parable for us. Most churches preach grace, but
when exposed like this, grace just seems, well, unfair! But grace it is.
And grace abounds. I find grace in that God goes after the lazy
(αργος); furthermore, even the envious (πονηρος, evil in fact) get into
heaven. We do not enter God's Kingdom based on our heart being perfect,
but simply by God's grace. I also find grace to be the hiring, not the
pay-day; It is all by God's grace that we are hired in the first place
and get to belong to God, to work in his vineyard. I also find grace
irresistible in that even the grumpy don't get kicked out of God's
απεστειλεν (aorist form of
αποστελλω, apostello, meaning "send"; 20.2). John's Gospel get a lot of
publicity for the idea of sending (even within the Trinity), but
Matthew uses the word αποστελλω 22 times! (Mark 20; Luke 25; John 27).
Here they are even sent into the...
(ampelon, meaning "vineyard"; 20:1,2,4 and 7). First, it is interesting
that Matthew and John have such a strong connection here, with vineyard
and sending. Another comparison worth exploring is between the
parables in chapter 20 and 21, both about vineyards.
(argos, meaning idle; 20.6) I have no unique insights to add to this
word. I just want to point out: God goes after the lazy, those not fit
for work elsewhere, those who simply stand around.
αποδος (from αποδιδημι. meaning "pay/give back"; 20:8) Matthew uses this word quite frequently in his Gospel:
Matthew 6:4 Give in secret, your father will reward/pay/give back in secret (see also 6:6, 6:18)
Matthew 12:36 On judgement day, we will have to "give back" an account of our life (see also 16.27)
Matthew 18 and the parable of the unforgiving servant -- lots of pay back in this story!
Matthew 22:21 Give/render to Caesar what is Caesar.
Matthew 27:58 Pilate gives the dead body back.
the case of Matthew 20, the workers are paid/rendered/given back their
wages. The question is: What is salvation? Working in the vineyard or
getting paid? I would argue that the moment of salvation is becoming
one of God's workers in the vineyard. Ultimately, as long as we view
salvation as pay, there is likely little joy along the way and much
frustration about the salvation state of our piers.
(causon, like caustic in English; 20:12) It is worth reminding
ourselves that doing Christ's work is not always easy. I wonder if the
Gospel for this passage is found way back in Matthew 11: Come to me,
all your who are heavy laden..."
τοις εμοις (dative
with "the of me"; 20:15) The Greek here is not good English, but the
English reader can make sense of it. When you have the word "the"
without a noun it means more like "things", in this case, "the 'the' of
me" or "the 'things' of me." The question is here, is the master
talking about money or people? It seems that in the case of God, the
things of God are the people.
πονηρος ("wicked" or "envious"; 20:15) Even the wicked still get into the vineyard!! God is really gracious.
ισους (isous, from
isos, meaning the same, as in "iso-metric"; 20:15) The problem is that
the master is making people equal to each other. This should call to
mind Philippians, in that Jesus did not regard equality (same word) as
something to be exploited, but humbled himself. In this case, becoming
like Christ is being willing to work in the vineyard and to rejoice over
a repentant sinner instead of being frustrated they get the same
"reward" as us!
Last bonus: The evil eye in 20:15
literal translation of 20:15 is "Or is your eye evil because I am
good." God does not describe himself as generous but as good.
Ultimately goodness is tied into generosity. Furthermore, those
disgruntled are described as having an evil eye. A reminder that a
reward is given to those with jealousy and evil in their hearts, not
just those pure in heart. God is good. He gives to humans. Regardless
of how long they worked; regardless of how lazy they are; regardless of
how good they are.