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The Parable of the Ten Virgins

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The College Press NIV Commentary: Matthew N. The Generous Landowner (20:1–16)

20:13–15. The landowner responds to the complaint by addressing the chief objector with a word that is “both friendly and reproachful,” friend (ἑται̂ρε, hetaire, cf. 22:12; 26:50). The owner of the vineyard then makes a threefold defense of his actions. First, there has been no injustice done them since he has kept his contractual agreement to pay them a denarius for their day’s work. Second, one has a right to use his own possessions to exhibit a gracious spirit to those to whom he will. And thirdly, their complaint is indicative of a spirit of jealousy (lit., “an evil eye,” cf. 6:20) that begrudges goodness and mercy extended toward others.

20:9–15. The wealthy throughout the Mediterranean world often bestowed significant gifts on the poor that were widely praised as beneficent, increasing the public status of the donors. Because status defined roles in ancient society, those who complained about receiving a day’s wage for a day’s work would be viewed as rude and ungrateful.

An “evil eye” (literally; cf. KJV) meant a “stingy eye” in common idiom (cf. Prov 28:22); suggesting that the laborers were stingy because he was a generous benefactor was a humiliating dismissal. Jewish people all affirmed that God, who alone rightfully owned all things, was beneficent whatever he gave; they acknowledged that only his attribute of mercy would enable even Israel to survive the day of judgment.

Jewish teachers employed a similar folk story about the day of judgment, but they used it to make the opposite point. Israel, who had worked hard, would receive high wages; the Gentiles, who had labored little, would receive little. In this context, however, Jesus’ point challenges those who have wealth and status in this world, Jewish or Gentile, and promises that in the world to come God will redress those who have been oppressed in this world.

Matthew 20:1 NIV
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard.
Matthew 20:2 NIV
He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
Matthew 20:3 NIV
“About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing.
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Matthew 20:4 NIV
He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’
Matthew 20:5 NIV
So they went. “He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing.
Matthew 20:6 NIV
About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
Matthew 20:7 NIV
“ ‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
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Matthew 20:8 NIV
“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’
Matthew 20:9 NIV
“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius.
Matthew 20:10 NIV
So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius.
Matthew 20:11 NIV
When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner.
Matthew 20:12 NIV
‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
Matthew 20:13 NIV
“But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?
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Matthew 20:14 NIV
Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you.
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Matthew 20:15 NIV
Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
Matthew 20:16 NIV
“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
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