Saturday, March 14, 2009

Is Your Eye Evil?

The kingdom of heaven, Jesus said in Matthew 20, is like a vineyard owner who hired harvesters at first light for the usual day’s pay, in Greek a denarius. At 9 a.m. he hired some more and promised to pay them “what’s fair.” At noon he hired some more and promised to pay what’s fair. He did the same at 3 p.m. At 5 p.m., just one hour before sunset, he hired some more promising “what’s fair.”

At the end of the day, all the harvesters lined up in order of how long they worked, and the owner began with the 5 p.m.. pickers. He gave them a whole denarius, a whole day’s pay. Down the line there was excitement. Why? Because it appeared that the owner had decided to pay a denarius an hour (rather than a day)! If the one-hour workers got a full day’s pay, then surely the guys who put in twelve hours will get twelve denarii! That’s only fair!

But the owner paid everybody one dinarius no matter how many hours they’d worked. So the twelve-hour workers registered an official complaint. Do you know what they said? You guessed it: “It’s not fair!”

But in response to the complaint the owner shot back, saying something very interesting. This is a quote:

'Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?' (Matthew 20:13-15)

In Greek the final question, “Or are you envious because I am generous,” reads literally, “Or is your eye evil because I am good.” The “evil eye” is blindly offended by the owner’s generosity. A scorekeeping eye cannot handle universal grace. The twelve-hour workers are judging the owner as unfair because they are monitoring everybody else. That’s equivalent to sinners judging God as unfair for forgiving everyone the same, is it not? In Luke’s parable of the two prodigal sons and Matthew’s parable of the vineyard workers, isn’t the ending about the same thing?:

Being offended by God’s universal atoning grace.

So there you have it. There’s your choice. Your crisis. Today is your judgment (krisis) day. Matthew’s vineyard parable is a brilliant parable of God’s universal generosity. Are you celebrating or sulking? Partying or pouting?


This parable is comparable to the prodigal parable in Luke 15. Both have an “It’s not fair” moment at the end. (See Two Prodigals and Their Strange Father.) Theses two parables inspired me to write A Country Fried Parable.

This Matthew parable is a “kingdom of heaven” parable, as are many of Jesus’ parables told in Matthew. By “kingdom of heaven” parable, I mean Jesus begins the parable with the phrase, “The kingdom of heaven is like . . .”

In preparing to write my book, Heaven for Skeptics, I read many books, including the current bestselling books about biblical heaven. What shocked me was that in these books, not one of them dealt with Jesus’ parables of the kingdom. They all but ignored them. To me this is bizarre, given that I see the “kingdom of heaven” parables as our best source of information on what Jesus means by “heaven.”

I didn’t ignore them in my book. (The above exposition is a modified excerpt from Heaven for Skeptics, copyright 2009 by Bert Gary for FaithWalk Publishing.)

For more on Jesus' parables see my blogs The Absurd Parable of the Unforgiving SlaveThe God Who GamblesParable of the Vine and BranchesThe Crooked ManagerThe Friend at MidnightHeaven Is Like a Crazy FarmerHe Speaks Of . . .Salted With FireTalking Sheep and GoatsIs Your Eye Evil?Two Prodigals and Their Strange FatherThe Lazarus Parable Is Not About the Afterlife,and Jesus Used Parables Like a Sieve.