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Lesson 7: Parables

Jesus of Nazareth could have chosen simply to express Himself in moral precepts; but like a great poet He chose the form of the parable, wonderful short stories that entertained and clothed the moral precept in an eternal form. It is not sufficient to catch man’s mind, you must also catch the imaginative faculties of his mind.

– Dudley Nichols

Devotion: Read Matthew 20:1-16. Many of the details of this parable reflect the labor practices of the day: the hiring of agricultural workers, potential employees gathering in the market, and using a manager to pay them. The only thing out of the ordinary is the wealthy landowner doing the hiring. One other aspect of the parable that represents real life is the shock of the laborers at getting paid the same amount—and most readers share that reaction! Why are the laborers who worked all day angry? Are they angry because they are dissatisfied with what they received or because others received just as much? Do you feel more sorry for the laborers who worked all day or more joyful for the laborers who were treated generously? Which drives you more: fairness or generosity? Of course, Jesus’ introductory and concluding comments (20:1, 16) invite us to consider the reign of God implications of the parable. How do you want God to treat you: with fairness or generosity? Is it reasonable for us to desire for God to treat us generously but then conduct our lives according to fairness? What makes such generosity upsetting?

Personal Worship Option: Read the following prayer: God, give us grace to understand how our lives depend on the efforts, courage, and industry of those who labor. May we strive to never take advantage of those who perform work from which we benefit. Keep us mindful of our responsibilities toward others and grateful for their service….continue in your own prayer.  

Dig A Little Deeper:

What is communicated by the phrase “I will pay you whatever is right” in 20:4? Does the definition of “righteousness” (to be in correct alignment with God) contribute to how we hear that comment?

A denarius represents the day’s wage paid for a common laborer, similar to today’s minimum wage. This allows laborers to maintain a poor, subsistence lifestyle. Does the small amount of the wage change how you experience the parable?  

When are you tempted to feel you have “borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat” more than others in terms of faithful Christian living? Should Christians assume long-term believers have a stronger connection to God than newcomers to faith? What role should experience play in leadership?

The phrase “or are you envious because I am generous?” is a translation of the literal “is your eye evil because I am good?” (20:15). This phrase suggests the disgruntled workers are not seeing the world accurately.  

What does this parable say to the early church as they begin to welcome Gentiles? What does it teach faithful, life-long Christians about deathbed conversions? What does it say to individuals who watch enemies repent and find forgiveness?

Are there particular times when individual followers of Jesus or the Church might need to hear this parable? What circumstances tempt us to treat people with fairness when we might be called to generosity?

Read Matthew 19:27-30, which ends with the phrase “many who are first will be last, and the last will be first”—an obvious connection to conclusion of today’s parable. How does this context contribute to experiencing Jesus’ parable?

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