Matthew 20:1-16 – Seen through the eyes of Jonah

Updated: Jan 28

Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”


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First of all, I welcome seekers to read the article I posted in September 2017.  I stand behind everything I wrote then today. 


Because I wrote that then and because I just recently wrote about the accompanying Track 2 reading from Jonah 3:10 to Jonah 4:1-11, where I mentioned the parable of the vineyard owner, I just want to focus on the nuts and bolts coming from the text above (as presented by the Episcopal Lectionary’s NRSV rendition) and how that meshes with the Jonah reading. There is a sermon just in the connections there and this Gospel reading.


First, and foremost, Jonah 4:10 has God telling Jonah, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow.”  Also relevant is Jonah 4:2, which is Jonah’s assessment of God as being, “I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.”  Those play well into the parable setting of a landowner who put up with poor laborers.


The bush, an overnight, one day only appearance, becomes metaphor for the vineyard owned by the landowner.  The bush was created by God to provide shade from the heat of the day, so the metaphor there is the good laborers are workers that happily do the work hired to do, not worried about the physical conditions.  The bush acts as the creation within a worker of God’s Holy Spirit.  No worker grows that by will, as it can only come as God’s blessing upon His servants.


The confession made by Jonah, about the mercy of God, His ability to not be angered by mistakes, and amazing love, disliking to mete out punishment speaks of the way a Father cares for a Son, which is not the same as a mother’s care.  For Jonah to use that confession about God’s ways as his reason for running away from the work expected by the Father, one should intuit the vineyard theme being place where Mother Earth welcomes her sons – those who tend a garden. 


It can then be seen how the laborers who stopped working, just as Jonah ran away from his obligation, were not punished by the landowner at the end of the day because the laborers were all the children of God – children who ran to momma saying, “It is too hot!”  Momma then said, “Well lay down in the shade and rest.  You have done enough.”  As the children of a forgiving Father, each child was paid for a day’s wages, as agreed, but the sons who did what the Father expected (not what the Mother allowed without punishment) are the one most highly rewarded.


As a parable, where metaphor is the objective to grasp and not the literal picture painted by words, one must keep in mind this reading begins by stating clearly, “The kingdom of heaven is like ….”  There was no earthly vineyard where a landowner went and hired human beings to pick grapes.  The owner of heaven is God.  Since no physical bodies of flesh ever go to “the kingdom of heaven,” the metaphor of laborers becomes focused on souls. That makes the metaphor for the vineyard  be Christianity, where the good fruit of the vine is Christ; and that means the labor done is relative to those souls that has been merged with God’s Holy Spirit (reborn as Jesus Christ), harvesting new Christians.


The metaphor for Christians is clear: What was told to Pharisees by Jesus is told to all the leaders of Christian denominations (equally by Jesus).  The comparison to Jonah is that he was a true prophet of the Lord – like Jesus, as a Son of God – and Jonah not only ran away from his responsibility, he had to spend three days and nights in the belly of a whale [more metaphor for another time to explain] before he was forced to go to Nineveh and work [thrown into the vineyard as a reluctant laborer]. 


It is important to realize that the landowner with the vineyard that needs harvesting is offering the opportunity for employment.  The landowner going out looking for laborers is God speaking to the souls of human beings, asking them if they would like to work for Him.  All of the laborers are idle, which means they are doing nothing for themselves or for others.


The Greek word “argos” is written and translated as “idle.”  The definition says “inactive, idle,” but the usage implies “lazy, thoughtless, unprofitable, and injurious.” (Strong’s)  When the landowner is seen as God the Father and the laborers given the opportunity to work for the Father, becoming His Sons, this says normal human existence is non-productive and selfish.  To then see how that opportunity to be ‘adopted’ by God is only an opportunity taken for a short while, until the heat and work becomes too much, says those who enjoy the title of “God’s servant” [call it Christian, Jew, or Israelite] comes with most returning to the idleness of human life, doing nothing to save themselves or anyone else.


In that vein of thought of idleness, priests, pastors, minister, and rabbis for Jesus would rather run to some far away place and pretend they are righteous, sneaking off to some shade to hide and avoid the true work demanded.  This becomes like some Roman Catholic pope that can retire to a villa and spend all the promised wealth of a day’s wages, when the “usual daily wage” is a “denarius” (Greek “dēnariou“), or the physical wealth of life, not the spiritual wealth of redemption.  The Christian vineyard needs true Apostles-Saints-Prophets going into the world teaching others how to be good fruit of the vine, which requires self-sacrificing labors to receive that reward.


The problem with that plan is it is hard work, done in the hot sun of persecution.  Priests, pastors, ministers and rabbis for Jesus love the titles they have and collars they wear and cars they drive (paid for by donations made to organizations that hire ‘temp laborers’), but none of them want to get their hands dirty.  The reason is telling someone, “You are going the wrong way,” usually gets the response, “Who the f**k are you?”  When a priest has one of the pewples say that to him or her, then he or she starts planning on looking for a new parish, because pewples like to hire a priest that says, “God loves you all, so you are all going to heaven. Amen.”


This make the time for payment for services, when the landowner said, “Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.”  That order of payment for services rendered meant the ones who did the most work, in the least amount of time, got the highest amount per hour.  The ones who were hired first, who might have done an hour’s work, but had to stay all day to get paid, their grumbles were over thinking [a big brain malfunction] they should get paid the same hourly rate the first got paid, meaning their length of service demanded more money.  That must be seen as metaphor and not the reality of twenty men all holding a denarius, with a few happy and the most unhappy.


The agreed wages for doing God’s work is not going to hell.  All got paid that wage for serving God the Father.  However, the ones who really did the work the Lord expected, they were given the price of admission to the kingdom of heaven – eternal life.  All the rest who pretended to do the work got the price of admission to an new life on earth, as a reincarnated soul.  This is the unseen aspect of day – when the light of life shines – and night – when a life comes to an end and the soul has to find a new place to call home. 


A day’s labor in the vineyard is a lifetime of service to God.  To be hired to work for God is the equivalent of when one hears the call to serve God and responds by saying, “Yessir, please use me.”  That is one’s age at the time of becoming “Christian.”  Some are sprinkled with water as infants, so they hide in the shade all their lives, having maybe picked a few Bible Stories grapes in children’s church.  Some see the errors of their lives in their teens and turn to religion as the work to do for salvation, but then they too find the work too hot to enjoy, so they sit and rest.  Others find God calling them to serve in their adult years and serve for a time, until distracted by selfish concerns.  Those who hear the call later in life and thank God for the opportunity and do the work without stopping – until death – they are the last who become the first rewarded.


While it is easy to read this story, knowing the setting of Jesus being in Jerusalem talking to Pharisees, where the landowner was looking for workers that were first the twelve tribes of Israel, but they didn’t work.  So, it then became the two nations of Israel, but they didn’t work either.  So, then it was the returning from exile Jews, but they didn’t work either.  So, late in the day, the Apostles went to work and the job got done.  Still, the same can be said of Christians today.


The Holy Roman Empire was hired first, but then they got hot and went to sit in the shade.  So, then the Lutherans and Anglicans (Henry-ites, who love their women with heads cut off), but they too stopped working.  That led to the hiring of migrant workers: Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and all the other breeds of Christianity that formed in the New World; but they too laid down  and stopped working from the heat of persecution.  That meant in the evening of day some true Christians not killed by all the others came to work and stuff got done.


The metaphor of this story is not who you know and who you blow [i.e.: born a Jew means as little as being baptized a Christian as an infant].  It is about works [thank you brother James].  All the ones hired to do the labor in this vineyard were those who walked up to the landowner and said, “I believe in God.”  The landowner (God) then said, “You’re hired!  Go bring me some souls!”  Instead of souls, he found a bunch of malingerers pretending to be working, expecting to all get the same pay – A free ticket to Heaven [or: a Get Out of Hell Free card]. 


To go to a church in America today is to go hear some young pastor or minister tell people that come to, “Join in!”  The people then watch a bouncing ball on the huge teleprompter that displays the song lyrics they sing [not the old standards].  The audience [cannot say “assembly” for a rock concert] stands and claps as they do the wave by their seats, while the five-piece band [not just an organist and pianist] play hot licks, with a choir of berobed swinging sisters dancing in place.  There is some swarthy lead singer and lead guitarist acting like they are making musical love on stage [cannot call it an “altar”].  Those laborers long ago quit working for souls.  They sit in the shade, got it made.


To go to an Episcopal or Anglican-Methodist-Lutheran-Catholic church and hear some young priest tell the pewples that protesting is a God-given right in a democracy, as if a protest that is only a smoke screen set up to protect rioters, thieves, and murders is all done in the Lord’s name is pure laziness and injurious.  Taking a Scripture reading and twisting it into some false message that suits one’s agenda is ceasing work and sitting in the shade of clergyhood.   Lying so someone seen as an evil president can be defeated in an election, is worse than being simply a quitter.  It is someone who is eating the grapes he or she is supposed to be gathering; or destroying the souls of those they are supposed to be saving.  When the pewples praise the young priest for having the courage to decry his or her own race, as a false way of projecting love of one’s lesser brothers, the only positive  is showing up, although the results shows nothing positive was done.


All the early laborers are trying to be Jonah, knowing what work one was hired to do, but preferring to run away or tell everyone what they want to hear.  All those answering the call because easy money could be made, while still being idle and useless is not something the Father sees as being responsible.  Mother Earth might wrap her loving denarii around her babies, excusing all their sins as just being born of a woman, in the flesh; but God the Father is strict about who enters His realm.


Then, there are the laborers who love telling the world how evil it is and God is going to kill you for sure!  The pewples who give them praise leap with joy, maybe even handling poisonous snakes to prove they are not afraid of believing in God.  Then, they rally to protest the protesters, carrying crosses and bearing chains, knives, and guns, hoping that some BLM or Antifa rat tries to mess with them.  Surely, God is on their side.


They are the workers hired that are like angry Jonah, certain that God is going to nuke Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington, just to prove to the adulterous and wicked that God don’t mess around with sinners.  Then, when it goes on and on and on, never ending, or if their president is overthrown and some other worthless politician takes his place, they sit and pout in their houses of the holy, being anything but responsible laborers.


The ones who do the work and save souls are those who walk fearlessly into arenas and face the hungry beasts that will tear them limb from limb, all while praising God Almighty.  They have been taught the lessons of Scripture properly.  They do not fear death, so a little hard work and a lot of persecution in the heat of the day is know to be just a passing discomfort.  They look forward to pay time.  They might have come to the vineyard late, but they come wholehearted and willing to work until the job is done.


Of course, Jesus spoke in metaphor about the harvest taking until the end of an age.  In human years, that means there is still time now.  It is still only five o’clock, with plenty of daylight left to get the job done.  The problem is too many have no Spirit within them to do the work.  Their souls fear death, so they enter the vineyard under false pretenses.  Their will-power is always short-lived and easily tossed away when the going gets rough.


This is where Jesus said [based on the above*], “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”  Jesus was telling parables like this for a week before his final Passover.  He told parables like a vineyard laborer hired at 5 o’clock, with only an hour until nighttime. He told of sheep and goats being separated and judged.  He told of virgins having oil in their lamps, with others forgetting to buy the oil needed to stay alert. 


Night time is quitting time, because night is like darkness, which is like death and sleep time.  Payment is made when the clock hits six and day becomes night.  Payment being the option of Go to Heaven free and Get Out of Hell free means the true Christians get to go be with God at death, while all the pretenders get recycled through reincarnation.  Pretending to do God’s work got them another chance at life in the flesh in a godforsaken world.

R. T. Tippett

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