Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Eccentric Employer

The behaviour of the main character in the parable we find in Matthew 20:1–16 is certainly eccentric to a large extent. Though this parable is known popularly as the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, I came accross at least one commentator who suggested that this is the Parable of the Eccentric Employer! I think he is right.
On a surface level reading of the parable we find eccentric behaviour of the master of the vineyard. Normally owners of the vineyard will have an estimate of the work-force that they require and employ people accordingly. Why did this man employ everyone whom he could find. Normal daily work hours are from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm. He had employed some people at 6:00 am but still visits the labour market to employ more people every three hours for more times. To add to the argument of eccentricity he employs another batch of workers when there is only one more hour for the bell to go. Not only that, this people employed in the last hour are those left behind. No one employed them--may be they were physically weak, had no skills for the work, or otherwise unemployable. Why did he employ such 'refuse' of the job market?
That is how it is with God. He may appear a bit 'eccentric' to us, who claim to be 'normal.' If God went by the norms and the rules none of us will be found in the Kingdom of God. It is his sheer mercy in going out of the way to find us that we are no the children of God.
There was surprise when the wages were given. First comes those unemployable people who came last to work. Though they came last--may not have done any work at all because by the time they reached the vineyard the bell must have gone--they were the first in the line at the payment counter. When they were given one days full wage (One Denarius) rest were excited. If this master gives away one Denarius for one hour then they will be paid according to the hours they put in. So, the first batch who had worked 12 hours in the scorching sun expected to get 12 Denarius. So, the other batches too. However, all of them were disappointed as they got only one Denarius the wage they had agreed upon. This master is unjust, they rightly concluded. He pays one days full wage to those who worked only an hour. However, the master's argument was valid too. He said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?' (Matthew 20:13-15 ESV).
So, that was the secret motive of the Master. He was not concerned about how much work is done and who does it--skilled, muscular people or useless, sloggy guys. It was his 'generosity' that makes him appear to be 'eccentric.'
That is true! Grace doesn't depend on any merit of those who receive it. It is freely given, generously, lavished on those who doesn't deserve it.
A final observation. After concluding the parable Jesus turned to his disciples and said: 'So the last will be first, and the first last' (Matthew 20:16 ESV). This is the second time that he said this the same day. Earlier in the day the young rich man came to him seeking how to enter eternal life. However, he turned back when he was told that he has to sell all that he has and give to the poor. Then in reply to Peter's question Jesus assured his disciples that those who left their property, famiy and friends for the sake of the Kingdom of God will not be losers but will be gainers. They will receive 'a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life' (Matthew 19:29 ESV). He was saying that those who like to keep their wealth will lose eternal life. However, who would risk what they have in this world for the Kingdom of God/Eternal life will not be losers in any sense of the word. He concluded that conversation also in a sentence identical to the one we find in 20:16 in 19:30. "But many who are first will be last, and the last first."
Was Jesus suggesting that those who entered the rule of God earlier than others has some kind of disadvantage? Or was he suggesting that those who came last to his grace has some undue advantage? A new truth emerges when we compare these two passages. The story of the rich youngman and the parable here. On many counts this man is first--his wealth, his spiritual hunger and his status in the society. However, this world which has accorded him the 'first' position will be superceded by another world to come--the Kingdom of God in its fullness or eternal life. In that world/age he will be last. At the same time, those who are last because they suffered loss for the sake of the world to come will be the foremost in the age to come. Jesus spelt that out clearly in Matthew 19:28. 'Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." There is a certain reversal of the order that is going to happen.
Grace may look a bit 'eccentric' because it doesn't follow our rules. That is why grae is grace, otherwise it would be somthing that we can claim or grab from God.

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