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The Vineyard Workers, #19

Matthew 20:1-16, CSB

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the workers on one denarius, he sent them into his vineyard for the day. When he went out about nine in the morning, he saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He said to them, ‘You also go into my vineyard, and I’ll give you whatever is right.’ So off they went. About noon and about three, he went out again and did the same thing. Then about five he went and found others standing around and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day doing nothing?’

“‘Because no one hired us,’ they said to him.

“‘You also go into my vineyard,’ he told them. When evening came, the owner of the vineyard told his foreman, ‘Call the workers and give them their pay, starting with the last and ending with the first.’

“When those who were hired about five came, they each received one denarius. 10 So when the first ones came, they assumed they would get more, but they also received a denarius each. 11 When they received it, they began to complain to the landowner: 12 ‘These last men put in one hour, and you made them equal to us who bore the burden of the day’s work and the burning heat.’

13 “He replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I’m doing you no wrong. Didn’t you agree with me on a denarius? 14 Take what’s yours and go. I want to give this last man the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with what is mine? Are you jealous because I’m generous?’

“So the last will be first, and the first last.”

The market place in a first century Jewish community was also the hiring office. Land owners who need laborers would come there early in the morning to get day laborers. If you needed a job that’s where you went. Typically, you brought the tools, and waited until you were hired for the day’s work. The standard pay was a denarius a day.

Agriculture was always an irregular business. There were times when no workers were necessary, and then there were times (harvest) when you couldn’t have enough. Grapes were the biggest crop, and vineyards needed to be cultivated, but that took only a few; and probably more skilled men.

The weather was always an issue, harvest time and the rainy season happened pretty much at the same time. The trick was to get the harvest in as soon as possible. It was always a race against time, rains could come at any moment, and if they came too early, the entire crop would be lost. That’s why even a worker who only worked just an hour was welcomed.

The work day was divided up into four 3 hour increments: 6–9–12–3–6.

After the 6 am group was hired, the landowner made four other visits to the market place. Laborers were needed in the worst way—he would take anyone, even if only for an hour. Things were critical, and every worker made the difference. With each group, he told them that their wages would be appropriate. This was his agreement with them. “I’ll give you whatever is right.’”

When the day was done, a table was set up; the day laborers stood in line, the men who were hired last went first. They received a full day’s wage for just one hour’s work! The one-hour guys couldn’t believe it. This was generosity in the extreme. They were elated.

Word quickly spread down the line. The men who worked the hardest—(they were the dirtiest and sweatiest), just knew that they were going to get even more than they ever expected. They were already figuring out in their heads their adjusted wages were going to be. “If the landowner was forking out a full days wage for just one hour’s work, we’re going to get far more.”

Surprise!

It’s not going to happen. Everyone down the line gets one denarius. It doesn’t matter how hard you worked, or how long or how many blisters you got. Everyone gets the same! That dear one, didn’t seem right or fair. The Greek word used here is γογγύζω, we translate it as “grumble, muttering or angry whispering. To be extremely discontent.” They were offended. Plain and simple.

The guys who worked all day complained. It wasn’t right. They confronted their employer, “how could you do this to us?” They were angry. What the landowner did, in their minds, was wrong—how could he “reward” those who barely broke a sweat. “You made them equal to us who bore the burden of the day’s work and the burning heat.”

Verse 16 smashes our conceptions of law and grace.

The law tells us that we get what we deserve. That seems logical; everyone receives what is reasonable. We like the logic of it. But grace doesn’t work that way. Law is man’s perspective; grace is God’s. We don’t understand it, it doesn’t compute. We “get” the law, it’s an automatic; it makes sense to us—grace on the other hand is foolish. “Who in the world gives out salvation to those nasty, evil people?”

God deals with us according to who He is, not according to who we are.

The landowner isn’t unfair to anyone—true, he’s more generous to some, but he’s not wrong or unreasonable to anyone. We read this in verse 13. He has been completely appropriate. He paid what he said he would. Grace is totally foreign to us, we find it offensive. We can’t understand it—we come to God complaining about the grace he lavishes on junkies and homosexuals.

I shudder to think that I’ve accused him of being too merciful, too gracious to some others. The reality is that we deserve nothing. If God gave us what we deserve, none of us would be here, we’d all be damned to hell. But he is good to all of us. And really, in the final analysis, what does it matter if we’re the first or the last? I should be thrilled that someone else is blessed by a grace that they never deserved.

I get it mixed up sometimes, and I don’t really understand it.

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direction, discipleship, faith, Holy Spirit, kingdom, obedience, our hearts, repentance, zeal

The Dishonest Manager, #17

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Luke 16:1-9, ESV

“There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ 

And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’” 

“So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures[a] of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures[b] of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’” 

The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world[c] are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth,[d] so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”

This one’s a challenge. I’ve wrestled off and on with this passage for 40 years, and until just lately have I’ve gotten an idea, (maybe) of what this parable is about. (If I’m off the wall, please let me know.) I must say, first of all, that the dishonest manager’s trickery is never endorsed by Jesus. The man is a thief and a scoundrel. He has embezzled his master’s money, and betrayed his trust. That’s a bad thing.

But yet there is something worth emulating about his conduct.

He’s a genuine businessman–focused and direct. He’s always got a plan, he’s always thinking ahead. He has a definite direction. There’s a purpose and a direct idea–a focus, and that sets him apart from others. Jesus makes an observation to his disciples. It’s the key to this parable. Notice what I’ve highlighted:

8-9 “Now here’s a surprise: The master praised the crooked manager! And why? Because he knew how to look after himself.” “Streetwise people are smarter in this regard than law-abiding citizens.”

“They are on constant alert, looking for angles, surviving by their wits. I want you to be smart in the same way—but for what is right

—using every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival, to concentrate your attention on the bare essentials, so you’ll live, really live, and not complacently just get by on good behavior.”

Luke 16:8-9, Message

A sailor will tell you that the hardest boat to steer is one that is dead in the water. Perfectly still it can’t be directed. It has to be moving. I wonder sometimes if some of Jesus’ disciples are too passive. They’ve repented and experienced God’s grace; they are definitely saved and going to heaven. That’s wonderful. But they’re just stalled after that. They have become passive and unfocused. They seem to float and drift and take whatever current that moves them along.

That “dead in the water” passivity isn’t what Jesus is looking for. This parable stresses the need to be aware, alert and always “looking for angles.” People like this have an edge about them, they’re like the salesman in a leisure suit– they’re always focused on their next “lucrative” move. They’re the “hustlers” of the Christian walk!

Jesus made an observation about that same sort of intensity in the ministry of John the Baptist:

“The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it.”

Luke 16:16

There needs to be a holy violence, it seems, something that’s pressing–something we’re striving for. Paul understood this also:

 “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 3:14, KJV

Jesus is making it quite clear that a passive walk is contrary to true discipleship. There must be movement towards a goal. We can’t just float through a nice, quiet Christian life. There needs to be a zeal and a holy direction. Yes, we need to wait, and listen! Being still and quiet before him is critical. But we can’t lose our direction and focus. It seems we must be forceful.

I believe that this parable reveals to us that a holy zeal is needed. The dishonest manager was a rascal and a cheat. But yet there was something that Jesus approved of, a directed zeal for that which we should have. Perhaps we’ve gotten a bit lax–floating through our salvation without any direction.

We definitely need to be people who love, and who are controlled by the Spirit. But we also need to be a people who press into the things of God. We need a directed zeal and definite purpose. Being a passive believer isn’t an option, and it doesn’t please God. We need to become believers who are always looking at God’s glory, and are moving toward it with a holy zeal, and a specific purpose.

“Men could be content to have the kingdom of Heaven; but they are loathe to fight for it. They choose rather to go in a feather bed to Hell than to be carried to Heaven in a ‘fiery chariot’ of zeal and violence.”

    Thomas Watson

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The Parable of the Midnight Request, #15

Luke 11:5-8, CSV

“He also said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend and goes to him at midnight and says to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I don’t have anything to offer him.’ Then he will answer from inside and say, ‘Don’t bother me! The door is already locked, and my children and I have gone to bed. I can’t get up to give you anything.’ 

I tell you, even though he won’t get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his friend’s shameless boldness, he will get up and give him as much as he needs.”

This parable is known by some as “the Importunate Neighbor.” That’s an excellent description. Importunate is defined as being persistent, especially to the point of annoyance or intrusion. It’s tenacious and stubborn–not giving up even when being ignored. That describes what’s happening here.

What proceeds this parable is Luke’s version of the Lord’s prayer, which the disciples requested. They wanted to understand the methods and mechanics of praying–perhaps the Pharisee’s prayers weren’t quite up to snuff–they wanted more; and they insisted that Jesus instruct them. They wanted to do it right.

A typical Jewish home had sleeping quarters (one room!) located on a raised platform. A ladder was used to access that level (which could be crowded, sometimes two to a bed.) Often their livestock were brought inside. And when it was time to get up, everyone got up. That explains the homeowner’s reluctance to give bread to his neighbor. To get up, light a lamp, wasn’t a solitary affair.

He’s obviously unenthusiastic to make an effort.

The word used here to explain the neighbor actions is ἀναίδεια “anaídeia,” which is only ever used here–it’s translated as impudence, shamelessness, audacity or “chutzpah.” It’s a Greek word that explains the knocker’s rudeness. He won’t stop. He knocks and pounds until he gets his bread. Not to have bread for his guest is unheard of, it violates the unwritten law of Jewish hospitality. 

This is part of Jesus’ view on prayer. It means we must be inappropriate sometimes–even to the point were we are being rude.

Immediately following this parable (the very next thought) are the following instructions:

“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Luke 11:9-10

Perhaps it’s this intensity that’s lacking.

We “pray” but don’t insist. We desire but don’t demand. Maybe it takes a certain shamelessness to make prayer work. Jesus emphasizes a necessary component to praying God’s way. It’s never automatic, a simple phrase or two that moves the father’s heart, and loosens his hand. In Jesus’ teaching, prayer means effort.

“There is neither encouragement nor room in Bible religion for feeble desires, listless efforts, lazy attitudes; all must be strenuous, urgent, ardent. Flamed desires, impassioned, unwearied insistence delight heaven. God would have His children incorrigibly in earnest and persistently bold in their efforts. Heaven is too busy to listen to half-hearted prayers or to respond to pop-calls. Our whole being must be in our praying.”

    E.M. Bounds

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