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Why Jesus Spoke in Parables, Part 2

Our sympathies can easily be with the grumbling workers in Matthew 20, but can they be with the landowner? In this parable a landowner asks men to work in his vineyard early in the morning; he hires men again at about 9:00 a.m., at noon, and finally at 3:00 p.m. He calls all the workers together at 5:00 p.m. and being a generous man pays the workers hired last the amount the landowner agreed to pay those hired early in the morning. Those that had worked all day were paid last and received the same pay as those hired at 3:00 p.m. Not only did they work all day, but they had to wait in line the longest to receive the same pay as those hired last. It is easy for the interpreter to relate to the workers who labored all day because of their own definition of fairness. It is harder if the interpreter is one who is not a fair person. The lens with which they see the world is quite different. Jesus closes this parable with, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16, TNIV).

To place the last verse in context one must go back to the first verse in Matthew 20 when Jesus prefaces the parable with, “For the kingdom of heaven is like…” (Matthew 20:1a, TNIV). Jesus is describing how God, in His wonderful mercy, has extended His invitation to be with Him in heaven to everyone. Once there we recognize no pecking order; everyone is equal in God’s eyes. Frankly, this is one of the easier parables to understand.

When Jesus is telling the parable of the lost sheep he is targeting the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who would have immediately snickered at the thought of owning sheep when Jesus said, “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep (Luke 15:4a TNIV). Unless it is understood who Jesus is addressing we will never get this point. It would be like Jesus addressing all the CEOs of the Fortune 500 firms and saying, “Suppose when you went to work tomorrow and you were flipping hamburgers at McDonald’s,” and then continuing with his story. Only those CEOs wanting to understand the point Jesus was making would have even continued to listen. Jesus knew long before modern day marketers that emotions are required to learn anything. “Emotions are the keys to learning, the keys to imprinting. The stronger the emotion, the more clearly the experience is learned” (Rapaille, Clotaire, The Culture Code, page 17). Final part next week…

Creed Branson, Executive Minister and Centreville Campus Pastor

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