Jesus and the rich young man, part 4 — Matthew 19:30–20:7

The Kings Instructions

Advent 2021

Jesus was a man of his time. Many of his sayings are based on things that not only people would be familiar with, but were seasonal. Fruit picking has always been seasonal work, the fruit is picked when it is ready to be picked. Jesus and his disciples are on their way to Jerusalem at the time of the grape harvest, After the harvest the vines would be pruned. Both this and the passage in John’s Gospel where Jesus said, “My father is the vinedresser,” were taught at the time of the harvest and of pruning.

Strawberry pickers
Copyright free image from World Bank Photo Collection on Flickr

30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

20 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the labourers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market-place, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’

Matthew 19:30–20:7

denarius was a day’s wage for a labourer. This was what the labourers in the story would have expected to have earned.

Sometimes the chapter start points are misleading. Even without them people tend to read the Bible in short bursts, a parable at a time, without thinking about how the passage fits the narrative: This is particularly true in a meticulously crafted book like the Gospel of Matthew. The start point of Chapter 20 of Matthew’s Gospel is a case in point, Matthew 19:30 really belongs with the parable of the workers in the vinyard, for reasons I will talk about in the next post, in any case this parable is a continuation at the encounter of Jesus with a rich young man which started at Matthew 19:16.

Picking fruit is seasonal work. There is a problem in Britain in that seasonal workers are mostly migrants and we have tightened our boundaries so that coming from another country ar harvest has become more difficult. People who live here all year round want permanent jobs with a wage coming in all year round. Seasonal work will mean the poverty of living on benefits for most of the year. A flexible migrant workforce is vital to parts of the agricultural economy.

It was so in Jesus time. On their way from Galilee to Jerusalem Jesus and his disciples would have been travelling from town to town, from village to village. It does not matter if they travelled on foot or by cart, we are not told how they travelled, but it would have been at walking pace over several days. At this time of year the migrant workers would also have been travelling, looking for work, congregating in the towns and villages where the work was available, before moving on to the next town.

Jesus is taking what he and the disciples have seen and is applying it to God’s kingdom. We are told that the kingdom of Heaven is like the master of the house, so that we know that the master represents God in the story. We have moved on from the rich young man to poor migrant workers but the focus is still on possessions and money. God is portrayed as all welcoming, even to those who have arrived in the town too late, almost at the end of the working day and would have expected to have spent the night hungry.

Jesus welcomes all.

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