Sunday, February 21, 2016

Matthew 20 - An Unfair Story Made Fair

I recently came across in a Bible reading one of the most potentially abhorrent and unfair passages in scripture - Matthew 20. It is where Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God being where the first will be last and last will be first - He ultimately treats people unequally. 
But is it really unfair?

The story is about a master who goes out in the morning and hires workers for a day's wage. However, the master continuously goes back to the market and hires people to work for him that same day. The master even goes out in the late afternoon to hire more people (who were standing around looking for work). At the end of the day, the master pays all his workers the same day's wage that he agreed upon with the workers he hired in the morning. The morning workers were upset that they didn't get paid more than those who arrived at the end of the day (naturally). The master simply replied that he was able to do with his money as he pleased and that no agreement was broken between him and the morning workers. The master merely decided to pay the late-comers the same as the morning workers out of generosity.
So what is Jesus trying to say that the kingdom of God is like?

This passage could be seen differently by capitalists (who generally look out for equality) and socialists (who look out for equity). From a capitalist perspective, Jesus emphasised the freedom of choice that the master had with his money. The master didn't need to pay anyone more and is free to run his business as he pleases. On the other hand, from a socialist perspective, Jesus may be telling us something more about the Kingdom of God. He may be saying that the master is free to use his money as he wishes, yet advocating a mindset or value system more in line with socialist ideas of equity. 

The story suggests that there was not enough work for people in the market place, and the master who was able to supply a living wage to these people also felt compelled to do so out of grace. The master chose to endorse more equitable values in order to produce equality among workers. In the West we tend to celebrate "freedom" of choice (along with economic freedom) to decide our own future and make our own paths. However, Jesus here seems to be talking about a Kingdom where our economic wealth and "freedom" is used to put in place means by which those with less can have more and likewise also be free from poverty.    

Thus equity is necessary to bring about equality, and necessary to treat the first last and the last first - A Kingdom where concern for the well being of others makes the world go around.

How do you think the Kingdom of God is pictured from this passage?     


  1. Nice article :) This is a great summary: "There was not enough work for people in the market place, and the master who was able to supply a living wage to these people also felt compelled to do so out of grace."

  2. Hi Daniel, I think that the Kingdom of God is according to election.
    Since ALL of God's children will be saved, therefore it makes no difference whether I am the first or the last, I am saved by His grace alone.
    That means that I am born again apart from me doing anything, it is a free gift of God and therefore it doesn't matter whether I am the first or the last.
    All that matters is, that I am born again into His Kingdom.

  3. Hey Ben, are you still around? I am.

    We just got back from two weeks in Tanzania. Man, that is a different world. Wonderful people, doing the best with lots of disadvantages compared to us rich Westerners. You might want to check out the third world sometime, personally. We walked through Maasai land and saw people living as they did hundreds of years ago. Very amazing and touching.

    cheers from sunny Vienna, Scott

  4. Guten Tag Scott!

    I don't remember a Ben on here ha ha. On the right blog?
    Tanzania would have been an amazing visit. I have never visited a third world country and I am sure it would be an eye opener.

    So what took you over there?

    I hope you are keeping well Scott.
    BTW I finished my degree and got a job in child protection. Been busy lately but want to get back into blogging one day :)

  5. Hmmm, sorry Daniel, I don't know who I was channeling. Of course you're Dan. But sometimes all those Old Testament names just sort of meld. I should know better, since my son's name is Adam.

    Yes, Tanzania was a revelation. It was interesting to me to see what Christianity is doing there. Some positive, some negative. Seems like Christians are just like everyone else: some are more helpful than others.

    cheers from sunny Vienna, Scott

    1. Child protection? What does that entail? We talked with one kind of "child protector" in a public school in Arash: he was the only adult watching over a couple hundred boarding school kids from six to fourteen at night. He had a rifle and was apparently responsible for keeping lions and hyaenas at bay. Is your job like this?

  6. :D
    No worries...
    I am surprised that you sound surprised Christians are not always helpful. Christians are not more or less human than others, as you well know :)

    To ascertain how helpful Christianity is, I find it helpful compare what each individual person would be like should they be Christian or not. That is a better comparison. I see huge changes in people for the good that become Christians but it doesn't necessarily mean they are running around with halos above their head and are "better" than atheists.

    When it comes to being helpful to others (especially regarding/involving another culture), I think we can be the opposite of helpful. Josh can share a lot about this as he spent some time in Africa as a doctor. Christianity needs to be culturally sensitive. Christianity is much bigger than Western Christianity.
    He said it was sad to see "Western" education infiltrate into systems that actually could work, but instead are destroyed by Western thought. Instead of supporting people in and with their own cultural strengths, we try to teach them Western ways. The result is that in stead of young people working on farms and living in their communal sense, they are on the side of the road selling cell phone top ups.

    Have you ever read Paulo Friere's "Pedagogy of the Oppressed"? - its worth a read.

    Ha ha Scott, very funny. No, child protection is not like that here in New Zealand lol.

    So what brought you to Tanzania?