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Matthew 19-20 & Mark 10

10.22.2010

Matthew 20:1-15 is a great story and one that gets to the heart of the conflict I described in my last post between my younger self and the Gospel message. 

How can it possibly be a good idea to pay them all the same thing?  That just disincentivizes early turnout and ensures that you will have a harder time getting enough labor to finish the work next time because everyone will have an incentive to just wait until the last minute to sign on for the most denarii for the least amount of work!*

Among the many things I wasn’t getting in this reaction was the fact that this is a parable describing the Kingdom, not a socio-economic model.  Jesus did not come to tell us how to live better on this earth.  His ministry was not about instituting just policies or maximizing our quality of life.  Jesus came to proclaim the Gospel that all men are sinful and have fallen short of God’s glory but that His death on the cross pays our penalty for sin and gives us access (through faith) to eternal communion with God. 

Jesus isn’t even trying to incentivize moral behavior.  The penalty of sin is death, and all have merited it.  In the terms of the parable, there will be no ‘next time’ during which God will hire and pay workers.  The only thing that matters is that people realize their need (for denarii in the parable, grace in real life) and accept the offer.  The chasm between us (collectively) and God is so great as to render insignificant differences between us (individually). 

Again, Jesus is hammering at the Pharisees.  He says more than once that He is not here for them (the so-called ‘righteous’) but for the sinners.  But there’s irony in that because it seems that the blindest sinners, the ones most in need of His message, are the Pharisees themselves.  He certainly speaks to them a lot.  It’s almost as if He’s saying, ‘I’m not here for the person you think you are (the law-abiding, upstanding citizen), I’m here for the person I know you to be (the self-righteous, judgmental, blind, sinner).’  He really did come for the Pharisees, but just not in the way they wanted to accept.

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*  I was very precocious.  I was equating liberal welfare programs with communism at age 7.  What that says about the maturity level of those calling our current president a socialist, I won’t venture to say…

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