Matthew Chapter 20:1-16

Chapter 20 starts with the parable of the Vineyard Workers. This is new material, not having been in Mark.

1 Ὁμοία γάρ ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν ἀνθρώπῳ οἰκοδεσπότῃ ὅστις ἐξῆλθεν ἅμα πρωῒ μισθώσασθαι ἐργάτας εἰς τὸν ἀμπελῶνα αὐτοῦ:

The same is the kingdom of the heavens as to a man the master of the household who came in the the morning to select workers for the vineyard of his. 

The word << οἰκοδεσπότῃ >> can mean “steward”, or it can refer to the master of the house. In this case, I believe the latter is appropriate for reasons that we will discover later.

And for the most part, I will reserve comment until the end. 

1 Simile est enim regnum cae lorum homini patri familias, qui exiit primo mane conducere operarios in vineam suam;

2 συμφωνήσας δὲ μετὰ τῶν ἐργατῶν ἐκ δηναρίου τὴν ἡμέραν ἀπέστειλεν αὐτοὺς εἰς τὸν ἀμπελῶνα αὐτοῦ.

Agreeing with the workers from one denarius per day he sent them to his vineyard.

2 conventione autem facta cum operariis ex denario diurno, misit eos in vineam suam.

3 καὶ ἐξελθὼν περὶ τρίτην ὥραν εἶδεν ἄλλους ἑστῶτας ἐν τῇ ἀγορᾷ ἀργούς:

And coming around the third hour he saw others standing the marketplace idle.

Recall that the Roman day started at six in the morning. So the third hour would be 9:00 am. And what we’re describing is a labor market very similar to ones we have now, where men congregate and employers come to hire them.

3 Et egressus circa horam tertiam vidit alios stantes in foro otiosos

4 καὶ ἐκείνοις εἶπεν, Ὑπάγετε καὶ ὑμεῖς εἰς τὸν ἀμπελῶνα, καὶ ὃ ἐὰν ᾖ δίκαιον δώσω ὑμῖν.

And to them he said, “Get yourselves up and (go) to the vineyard, and what is just I will give you.”

4 et illis dixit: “Ite et vos in vineam; et, quod iustum fuerit, dabo vobis”.

5 οἱ δὲ ἀπῆλθον. πάλιν [δὲ] ἐξελθὼν περὶ ἕκτην καὶ ἐνάτην ὥραν ἐποίησεν ὡσαύτως.

They went off. Again he came around the seventh hour and the ninth hour he did in this (same) way.

5 Illi autem abierunt. Iterum autem exiit circa sextam et nonam horam et fecit similiter.

6 περὶ δὲ τὴν ἑνδεκάτην ἐξελθὼν εὗρεν ἄλλους ἑστῶτας, καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς, Τί ὧδε ἑστήκατε ὅλην τὴν ἡμέραν ἀργοί;

Around the eleventh hour having come in he found others standing, and he said to them, “Why in this way do you stand the whole day idle?” 

It’s now five in the afternoon.

6 Circa undecimam vero exiit et invenit alios stantes et dicit illis: “Quid hic statis tota die otiosi?”.

λέγουσιν αὐτῷ, Οτι οὐδεὶς ἡμᾶς ἐμισθώσατο. λέγει αὐτοῖς, Ὑπάγετε καὶ ὑμεῖς εἰς τὸν ἀμπελῶνα.

They said to him, “That no one us hired”. He said to them, “Get up and (go) to the vineyard”. 

7 Dicunt ei: “Quia nemo nos conduxit”. Dicit illis: “Ite et vos in vineam”.

8 ὀψίας δὲ γενομένης λέγει ὁ κύριος τοῦ ἀμπελῶνος τῷ ἐπιτρόπῳ αὐτοῦ, Κάλεσον τοὺς ἐργάτας καὶ ἀπόδος αὐτοῖς τὸν μισθὸν ἀρξάμενος ἀπὸ τῶν ἐσχάτων ἕως τῶν πρώτων.

Having become evening, said the lord of the vineyard to his steward, “Call the workers, and give to them the wage beginning from the last to the first.”    

Here is the payoff to Verse 1, where we find that he was the master of the house, and not the steward. In this verse he’s called “lord of the vineyard” and he has a steward. Arranging that those who came last get paid first is a bit odd; it’s really a device to help drive home the point of the story.

8 Cum sero autem factum esset, dicit dominus vineae procuratori suo: “Voca operarios et redde illis mercedem incipiens a novissimis usque ad primos”.

9 καὶ ἐλθόντες οἱ περὶ τὴν ἑνδεκάτην ὥραν ἔλαβον ἀνὰ δηνάριον.

And having come those around the eleventh our received apiece a denarius.

9 Et cum venissent, qui circa undecimam horam venerant, acceperunt singuli denarium.

10 καὶ ἐλθόντες οἱ πρῶτοι ἐνόμισαν ὅτι πλεῖον λήμψονται: καὶ ἔλαβον [τὸ] ἀνὰ δηνάριον καὶ αὐτοί.

And having come the first expected that more they would receive. And they received apiece also one denarius. 

10 Venientes autem primi arbitrati sunt quod plus essent accepturi; acceperunt autem et ipsi singuli denarium.

11 λαβόντες δὲ ἐγόγγυζον κατὰ τοῦ οἰκοδεσπότου

Having received (this), they grumbled upon the master of the house.

11 Accipientes autem murmurabant adversus patrem familias

12 λέγοντες, Οὗτοι οἱ ἔσχατοι μίαν ὥραν ἐποίησαν, καὶ ἴσους ἡμῖν αὐτοὺς ἐποίησας τοῖς βαστάσασι τὸ βάρος τῆς ἡμέρας καὶ τὸν καύσωνα.

They said, “They the last a single hour made, and equally to us you made them to those bearing the burden of the day and the heat (of the day).”

12 dicentes: “Hi novissimi una hora fecerunt, et pares illos nobis fecisti, qui portavimus pondus diei et aestum!”.

13 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς ἑνὶ αὐτῶν εἶπεν, Ἑταῖρε, οὐκ ἀδικῶ σε: οὐχὶ δηναρίου συνεφώνησάς μοι;

He, answering one of them, said, “Comrade, I did not dishonour you. Did you not to a denarius contract with me?”

13 At ille respondens uni eorum dixit: “Amice, non facio tibi iniuriam; nonne ex denario convenisti mecum?

14 ἆρον τὸ σὸν καὶ ὕπαγε: θέλω δὲ τούτῳ τῷ ἐσχάτῳ δοῦναι ὡς καὶ σοί.

“Take what is yours and go. I wish to the last to give as also to you.” 

14 Tolle, quod tuum est, et vade; volo autem et huic novissimo dare sicut et tibi.

15 [ἢ] οὐκ ἔξεστίν μοι ὃ θέλω ποιῆσαι ἐν τοῖς ἐμοῖς; ἢ ὁ ὀφθαλμός σου πονηρός ἐστιν ὅτι ἐγὼ ἀγαθός εἰμι;

“Or is it not allowed to me that which I wish to do to those that are mine? Or is your eye wicked that I am good?”

15 Aut non licet mihi, quod volo, facere de meis? An oculus tuus nequam est, quia ego bonus sum?”.

16 Οὕτως ἔσονται οἱ ἔσχατοι πρῶτοι καὶ οἱ πρῶτοι ἔσχατοι.

In this way will be the last first and the first last.

16 Sic erunt novissimi primi, et primi novissimi”.

This is a great lesson in justice vs. mercy. Admit it: if you put yourself in the position of the workers hired at the beginning of the day, you resent that those who only worked an hour get the same amount as you. And naturally, we all feel that we are those who have borne the burden and the heat of the day, while those johnnies-come-lately loafed about all day and got what we got. That’s just not fair!

I recently read about someone discussing the Prodigal Son with some ostensible Christians. I believe it was in a church setting, but the details don’t matter. What does matter is that a lot of these ostensible Christians sided with the dutiful son, and were incensed that the Prodigal was welcomed back with open arms while we dutiful ones have been busting our butts. And it’s the same with Mary and Martha, where the dutiful one resents the other who spends her time listening to Jesus. And we feel the resentment of the dutiful one.

Such lovely Christians we are.

We deserve a reward. Those slackers don’t.

I have no doubt that people in the First Century felt pretty much the same way. In a lot of ways, this is one of the more difficult lessons that we have to learn. Compassion. Mercy. We deserve them, we feel, but they don’t! And that is exactly the point. Compassion and mercy are not given to those who’ve earned them, who deserve; if you’ve earned a reward, it’s your just dessert. It’s only to those who have not earned them that we can give compassion and mercy. That’s pretty much the definition, what makes them compassion and mercy.

I will resist going into all the social justice implications of this. I will resist talking about how this applies to our own time. Because it has always applied to “our own time”, whenever that was. There are always the dutiful ones who follow the rules and get seriously annoyed when those who don’t follow them consistently are forgiven. What is it about duty, doing our duty, that makes us into such nasty people? Well, perhaps “nasty” isn’t entirely appropriate. “Self-righteous prigs” is probably closer to the truth. People two thousand years ago no doubt felt the resentment of those hired first, and I suspect people two thousand years from now will still feel the same sort of resentment.

But this is the novelty of the message we are receiving. Every major cultural group has its mores and its rules, and those who adhere to these will earn a reward. The Romans felt like this. The Jews believed this. The Greeks believed this. It was the Christians who broke the rules and offered mercy to those who do not “deserve” it. But that’s what makes it mercy. So this is a revolutionary way of looking at the world. It was so far ahead of its time that we still have not entirely caught up to this way of thinking. It’s still hard for us.

Now, the problem is that I do not believe this traces back to Jesus. It’s not in Mark. It’s not in Luke. It’s only here in Matthew. What to we make of this? This is part of the larger problem of what to make of stuff that’s only in Matthew. One thing we can’t do is to take all the material as coming necessarily from the same place, whether that be a source, or sources, or created by Matthew himself. Coming into this, it seemed very likely to me that a lot of the material unique to Matthew was probably made up by Matthew. More, it seemed that even a lot of the supposed Q material could have been, or was, written by Matthew. This would include the Sermon on the Mount as well as this parable, or the parable of the Wicked Servant. The parable here feels more polished, more of a complete effort, or perhaps the product of a more developed literary sensibility. The Sermon on the Mount does indeed sound like a collection of wisdom sayings, which is what we should expect from Q, assuming it existed.

The implication of all of this is that Matthew did have a collection of sources; nothing in this reasoning either precludes or supports a contribution from Matthew himself. He could easily have been one of his own sources. What it does point to is the augmentation of the source material between Mark and Matthew. Are we to assume Mark simply ignored much of the material he encountered, including the very sayings of Jesus? That is the necessary conclusion if we assume Q, and if we assume a multiple line of sources reaching Matthew: that Mark either ignored, or was unaware of many of these sources. The case for the latter would be bolstered if, as tradition says, Mark wrote his gospel in Rome. It would be easy to believe that he did not have access to the sources available to Matthew, assuming Matthew wrote in Syria or some such location near to Judea. But if Mark wrote in Rome, and had an eyewitness–Peter–for his source, why did Mark not include more of Jesus’ teaching? I just read a justification for Mark being written in Rome, including Peter as his primary source, making him the Mark from Acts, but there is a lot of nearly-circular reasoning in this, and none of it addresses why Mark did not place more emphasis on Jesus’ words, that Peter should have been able to supply.

So the simplest explanation of these extra sources is that they came into existence, or attained widespread circulation, after Mark had written. The best evidence for this comes–or will come–when we start looking at Luke. Everyone knows that Luke has many, many more stories than even Matthew: the birth of the Baptist; the birth narrative with Caesar Augustus and the Heavenly Host and the Shepherds who were sore afraid; the Prodigal Son; the Good Shepherd. The list goes on. Are we really going to believe that Luke, writing close to a generation after Matthew, stumbled up a trove of stories that had escaped both Mark and Matthew? A trove of stories told by Jesus, that were highly literary in form, that had been circulating for sixty or seventy years? As Eliza Doolittle put it, not bloody likely. What happened between Matthew and Luke is exactly what happened between Mark and Matthew: the legend continued to grow. By the time Malory wrote the final (?) version, the Arthur legend had added dozens of characters: Launcelot, Parzifal, Gawaine, Galahad, and a supporting cast of thousands.

So, no, Matthew did not find this story in a book that had been lost for forty years.

More important, however, is what this story tells us about how the ideals of the following were changing. There is nothing like this idea in Mark; yes, the last shall be first was there, but it was not worked out in the way it is here. In Mark, that was a nod to social status, that the lower ones, the least ones will have an edge. Here, it’s tale of those who have been forgiven, regardless of when they become penitent. That sentiment is simply not found in Mark. So we have to ask if it’s more likely that the sentiment came with the story, or if the sentiment came first? Since the sentiment is not in Mark, both came into existence in the interim. Given that, the most likely explanation is that the two were imported into Matthew as a unit: the story carried the sentiment because the story was conceived to do just that. Regardless, this represents another development in the history of what became Christianity.

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About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on January 16, 2016, in gospel commentary, gospels, Matthew's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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