The Wages (March 18)

Matthew 20:1-16


Bernard Brandon Scott, in Hear Then the Parables: A Commentary on the Parables of Jesus (Augsburg Fortress, 1989, p. 297) writes,

“The lack in the parable of any absolute standard of justice undermines any human standard for the kingdom. For the parable, value or worth (i.e., a place in the kingdom) is determined not by what is right but by acceptance. The householder’s urgent though unexplained need for laborers is the parable’s metaphor for grace. It is not wages or hierarchy that counts but the call to go into the vineyard. The householder’s generosity lies not in the wage but in the need. Those commentator’s who have seen in the parable a justification for Jesus’ association with the outcast are correct, insofar as the parable provokes a response in which all are invited to the kingdom not on just deserts but by invitation. The parable’s strategy is not unlike Paul’s argument that with God there is no distinction, that justification (making right) is through gift (Rom. 3:22-24).”

Reading the Scripture

Here are some ways you might read the scripture or tell the story:

•    Audio:
o    The Bible Experience: The Complete Bible (“presented by a stellar ensemble of today’s top-name actors, musicians, clergy, directors, and award-winning producers.” Available from Keith).
o    Faith Comes by Hearing: You’ve Got the Time (Dramatized New Testament we used a few years ago during Lent. Available in the church office.)

•    The Cotton Patch version of the Bible, Matthew 20:1-16:
    "The God Movement is like a farmer who went out early in the morning to hire some field workers. Having settled on a wage of ten dollars a day, he sent them into the cotton field. Then about nine he went to town and saw others standing around idle. So he said to them, ‘Y’all go on out to the fields, and I'll pay you what’s right.’ And they went. He did the same thing about noon, and again around three. Then about an hour before quitting time, he saw some others just hanging around. ‘Why have y’all been knocking around here all day doing nothing?’ he asked. ‘Because nobody has hired us,’ they answered. ‘Okay, then y’all can go out to the cotton fields too,’ he said. At the end of the day the farmer said to his field boss, ‘Call the workers and pay them off, starting with those who came last and continuing to the first ones.’ Well, those who came an hour before quitting time were called up and were each paid ten dollars. Now those who got there first thing in the morning supposed that they would get much more, but when they were paid off, they too got ten dollars. At that, they raised a squawk against the farmer. ‘These latecomers didn’t put in but one hour, and you’ve done the same by them as you did by us who stood in the hot sun and the scorching wind.’ But the farmer said to one of them, ‘Listen, buddy, I haven’t mistreated you. Didn’t you and I settle on ten dollars a day? Now pick up your pay and run along. I’m determined to give this last fellow exactly the same as you. Isn’t it okay for me to do as I please with what’s mine? Or are you bellyaching simply because I’ve been generous?’ That’s the way it is: Those on the bottom will be on top, and those on top will be on the bottom."

Teaching Suggestions

•    The parables of the kingdom, we study in this unit, deal with agricultural themes. Invite a farmer each week to speak to the parables from a farmer’s perspective.

•    On Sunday, February 19, Myles Bell was baptized, making him the newest member of Lexington Avenue Baptist Church (as of the time of this was written). Lucille Cooper has been a member of LABC the longest, 82 years, having joined the church in 1929 (as best we can tell from our records). Ruby Gray, our oldest member, turned 100 on February 21 (She likes to say, “I’m a day older than George Washington”) and she’s been going to church since her parents took her as a baby. The youngest member enrolled in our nursery Sunday School class is Walker Costello born October 27, 2011. In the Kingdom of God which of these is worth the most.

•    Application: Learn about the Office of Employment and Training with an office in Danville, 121 East Broadway, Danville, Ky. 40422. This organization provides various kinds of assistance for the unemployed. Pray for the unemployed.

•    Invite class members to reflect on the Parable of the Wages in worship today: “Today in worship we will pray, ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ Ask God to supply your basic needs and to help you to be satisfied with no more than you need. Pray for those who struggle to find the basic necessities of life.”


•    The Cotton Patch Gospel: Matthew and John, Clarence Jordan (Smyth & Helwys, 2004).

•    For a better understanding of farming in New Testament times see Harper’s Encyclopedia of Bible Life (Harper & Row, 1978,  pp. 172-185).

•    These dictionaries in the library have articles on “Parables” and “the Kingdom of God”:
o    Mercer Dictionary of the Bible (Mercer University Press, 1990)
o    Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, Revised and Updated (Harper & Row, 2011)
o    The Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible, Five Volume Set (Abingdon, 1976)

•    For additional commentary on the text see these commentaries in our library:
o    Mercer Commentary on the Bible (Mercer University Press, 1995)
o    Harper’s Bible Commentary (Harper & Row, 1988)