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THE LAST SERIES OF PARABLES.
THE THIRD DAY IN PASSION-WEEK-THE LAST SERIES OF PARABLES : TO THE
PARABLE OF THE LABOURERS IN THE VINEYARD-IN THE TEMPLE : THE
(St. Matt. xix, 30-XX, 16 ; St. Matt. xxi. 28–32 ; St. Matt. xxi. 33-46; St. Mark xii.
1-12; St. Luke xx. 9–19; St. Matt. xxii, 1-14.)
xix. 30-XX. 16
ALTHOUGH it may not be possible to mark their exact succession, it will be convenient here to group together the last series of Parables. Most, if not all of them, were spoken on that third day in Passionweek: the first four to a more general audience ; the last three (to be treated in another chapter) to the disciples, when, on the evening of that third day, on the Mount of Olives, He told them of the ‘Last «St. Matt. Things.' They are the Parables of Judgment, and in one form or Luke xxi. 37 another treat of the End.'
1. The Parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard.b— As treating pst. Matt. of “the End,'this Parable evidently belongs to the last series, although it may have been spoken previously to Passion-Week, perhaps on that Mission-journey in Peræa, in connection with which it is recorded by St. Matthew. At any rate, it stands in internal relation with what passed on that occasion, and must therefore be studied with reference to it.
We remember, that on the occasion of the rich young ruler's failure to enter the Kingdom, to which he was so near, Christ had uttered an earnest warning on the danger of riches.' In the low spiritual stage which the Apostles had as yet attained, it was, perhaps, only natural that Peter should, as spokesman of the rest, have, in a kind of spiritual covetousness, clutched at the promised reward, and that in a tone of self-righteousness he should have reminded Christ of the sacrifices which they had made. It was most painfully incongruous, yet part of what He, the Lord, had always to bear, and bore so patiently and lovingly, from their ignorance and failure to understand
Him and His work. And this want of true sympathy, this constant contending with the moral dulness even of those nearest to Him, must have been part of His great humiliation and sorrow, one element in the terrible solitariness of His Life, which made Him feel that, in the truest sense, 'the Son of Man had not where to lay His Head.' And yet we also mark the wondrous Divine generosity which, even in moments of such sore disappointment, would not let Him take for nought what should have been freely offered in the gladsome service of grateful love. Only there was here deep danger to the disciples : danger of lapsing into feelings kindred to those with which the Pharisees viewed the pardoned Publicans, or the elder son in the Parable his younger brother; danger of misunderstanding the right relations, and with it the very character of the Kingdom, and of work in and for it. It is to this that the Parable of the Labourers in Vineyard refers.
The principle which Christ lays down is, that, while nothing done for Him shall lose its reward, yet, from one reason or another, no forecast can be made, no inferences of self-righteousness may be drawn. It does not by any means follow, that most work done—at least, to our seeing and judging-shall entail a greater reward. On the contrary, ‘many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first. Not all, nor yet always and necessarily, but 'many.' And in such cases no wrong has been done ; there exists no claim, even in view of the promises of due acknowledgment of work. Spiritual pride and self-assertion can only be the outcome either of misunderstanding God's relation to us, or else of a wrong state of mind towards others a —that is, it betokens mental or moral unfitness.
Of this the Parable of the Labourers is an illustration. It teaches nothing beyond this. But, while illustrating how it may come that some who were first are "last,' and how utterly mistaken or wrong is the thought that they must necessarily receive more than others, who, seemingly, have done more—how, in short, work for Christ is not a ponderable quantity, so much for so much, nor yet we the judges of when and why a worker has come—it also conveys much that is new, and, in many respects, most comforting.
We mark, first, the bearing of the householder, who went out immediately, at earliest morn (äua mpw“), to hire labourers into his
a St. Matt.
Instead of discussing the explanations of others, I prefer simply to expound that which I have to propose. The difficulties of the usual interpretations are so great, that a fresh study
seemed requisite. Our interpretation turns on this, that the Parable is only an illustration of what is said in St. Matt. xix. 30.
THE 'LABOURERS' IN THE MARKET-PLACE.
vineyard.' That he did not send his steward, but went himself, and with the dawn of morning, shows both that there was much work to do, and the householder's anxiety to have it done. That householder is God, and the vineyard His Kingdom; the labourers, whom with earliest morning He seeks in the market-place of busy life, are His Servants. With these he agreed for a denarius a day, which was the ordinary wages for a day's labour, and so sent them into the vineyard; in other words, He told them He would pay the reward promised to labourers. So passed the early hours of the morning. About the third hour (the Jewish working day being reckoned from sunrise to sunset), that is, probably as it was drawing towards a close, he went out again, and, as he saw others’ standing idle in the market-place, he said to them, 'Go ye also into the vineyard.' There was more than enough to do in that vineyard; enough and more to employ them. And when he came, they had stood in the marketplace ready and waiting to go to work, yet idle '—unemployed as yet. It might not have been precisely their blame that they had not gone before ; they were others' than those in the market-place when the Master had first come, and they had not been there at that
Only as he now sent them, he made no definite promise. They felt that in their special circumstances they had no claim; he told them, that whatsoever was right he would give them; and they implicitly trusted to his word, to his justice and goodness. And so happened it yet again, both at the sixth and at the ninth hour of the day. We repeat, that in none of these instances was it the guilt of the labourers—due to their unwillingness or refusal — that they had not before gone into the vineyard. For some reason -perhaps by their fault, perhaps not—they had not been earlier in the market-place. But as soon as they were there and called, they went, although, of course, the loss of time, however caused, implied loss of work. Neither did the Master in any case make, nor they ask for, other promise than that implied in his word and character.
These four things, then, stand out clearly in the Parable: the abundance of work to be done in the vineyard ; the anxiety of the householder to secure all available labourers; the circumstance that, not from unwillingness or refusal, but because they had not been there and available, the labourers had come at later hours; and that, when they had so come, they were ready to go into the vineyard without promise of definite reward, simply trusting to the truth and
"In Rome, at the time of Cicero, a that is, rather less than in Judæa (comp. day-labourer received 12 as = about 6d.- Marquardt, Röm. Alterth. vol. v. p. 52). VOL. II.
& St. Luke xiii, 30
goodness of him whom they went to serve. We think here of those
And now it is even. The time for working is past, and the Lord of the vineyard bids His Steward [here the Christ] pay His labourers. But here the first surprise awaits them. The order of payment is the inverse of that of labour : ' beginning from the last unto the first.' This is almost a necessary part of the Parable. For, if the first labourers had been paid, they would either have gone away without knowing what was done to the last, or, if they had remained, their objection could not have been urged, except on the ground of manifest malevolence to their neighbours. After having received their wages, they could not have objected that they had not received enough, but only that the others had received too much. But it was not the scope of the Parable to charge with conscious malevolence those who sought a higher reward or deemed themselves entitled to it. Again, we notice, as indicating the disposition of the later labourers, that those of the third hour did not murmur, because they had not got more than they of the eleventh hour. This is in accordance with their not having made any bargain at the first, but trusted entirely to the householder. But they of the first hour had their cupidity excited. Seeing what the others had received, they erpected to have more than their due. When they likewise received every man a denarius, they murmured, as if injustice had been done them. And, as mostly in like circumstances, truth and fairness
1 The word “idle' in the second clause of ver. 6 is spurious, though it may, of course, be supplied from the fourth clause.
The last clause in our T. R. and A. V. is spurious, though perhaps such a promise was understood.
THE REWARD AS OF GRACE.
seemed on their side. For, selecting the extreme case of the eleventh hour labourers, had not the Householder made those who had wrought' only one hour equal to them who had “borne the burden of the day and the heat '? But, however fair it might seem, they had no claim in truth or equity, for had they not agreed for one denarius with him? It had not even been in the general terms of a day's wages, but they had made the express bargain of one denarius. They had gone to work with a stipulated sum distinctly in view as their hire. They now appealed to justice; but from first to last they had had justice. This as regards the so much for so much' principle of claim, law, work, and pay. But there was yet another aspect than that of mere justice. Those other labourers, who had felt that, owing to the lateness of their appearance, they had no claim—and, alas! which of us must not feel how late we have been in coming, and hence how little we can have wrought-had made no bargain, but trusted to the Master. And as they had believed, so was it unto them. Not because they made or had any claim—“I will, however, to give unto this last, even as unto thee'
—the word “ I will’ (061w) being emphatically put first to mark the good pleasure' of His grace as the ground of action. Such a Master could not have given less to those who had come when called, trusting to His goodness, and not in their deserts. The reward was now reckoned, not of work nor of debt, but of grace. In passing we also . Rom. iv. mark, as against cavillers, the profound accord between what negative critics would call the true Judaic Gospel' of St. Matthew, and what constitutes the very essence of the anti-Judaic teaching' of St. Paul—and we ask our opponents to reconcile on their theory what can only be explained on the ground that St. Paul, like St. Matthew, was the true disciple of the true Teacher, Jesus Christ.
But if all is to be placed on the new ground of grace, with which, indeed, the whole bearing of the later labourers accords, then (as St. Paul also shows) the labourers who murmured were guilty either of ignorance in failing to perceive the sovereignty of grace—that it is within His power to do with His own as He willeth Bếor else of male- » Rom. xi. volence, when, instead of a look of grateful joy, they bent an evil
eyeand this in proportion as the Householder' was good. But such a state of mind may be equally that of the Jews, and of the Gentiles. And so, in this illustrative case of the Parable,' the first shall ix. 18-24
'I prefer not rendering with Meyer first labourers could not have meant, that 11-18 and the R. V. évolnoav, viz., ápav, by the last had spent,' not wrought,' an óspent,' but taking the verb as the hour. This were a gratuitous imputation * wrought.' And
to them of malevolence and calumny.
4-6; xi. 6
e Rom. ii.; iii, 28-31;
d Rom. xi,