The Curmudgeon


Sunday, January 21, 2018

Bad Theology

Text for today: Matthew 20 i-xv

The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who agrees to pay some labourers a denarius for a day's work. He hires more labourers over the course of the day, so that some work nine hours, some six, some three and some only one. At the end of the day, he pays all the labourers one denarius. Those who have worked the longest, and who have been kept waiting in line to be paid, ask why they are being treated the same as those who have only worked a single hour. The landowner responds that he is keeping to the letter of their agreement, and that he has the right to do as he wishes with his own property.

This parable is essentially the same as that of the Prodigal Son, with the landowner in place of the father and the mugs who laboured for twelve hours in place of the virtuous brother who complains that his father favours the sinner over himself. The Prodigal Son appears in Luke's gospel, which attempts to smooth over some of the Saviour's more ugly and barbaric aspects; hence the father appeases the angry brother with the assurance that "everything I have is yours" - with the self-evident exceptions of the fatted calf and an occasional kid for a party.

By contrast, the landowner goes out of his way to insult the labourers who have worked the longest. He could have paid them extra, unless the spiritual wealth of the Kingdom of Heaven is to be considered finite (the fact that it can be measured out in portions is evident from II Kings 2 ix). Alternatively, the landowner could have paid the first labourers first and then dismissed them, rather than making them wait in line and rubbing their noses in the fact that they made a bad bargain. When the labourers complain, the landowner's answer is that he is more powerful than they are and can therefore do as he pleases. It is the voice of Job's tormentor, who replied to His victim's complaints by boasting of His power to create animals with impressive teeth and large genitals.


  • At 2:05 pm , Blogger mistah charley, ph.d. said...

    yes, if justice is "from each according to his ability, to each according to his work" this is definitely unjust - understood in this way, the owner of the vineyard seems almost to derive sadistic pleasure from tormenting those who worked all day with his capricious favoritism toward the short-timers

    For an alternative perspective, one could read

    From the Egoic Mind to the Mind of the Heart. The Teaching and Lived Experience of the Christian Contemplative Path

    Cynthia Bourgeault

    Abstract: The great spiritual traditions unanimously affirm that beyond the boundaried egoic consciousness, typically identified along the psychological spectrum as "myself", lies a more spacious, unboundaried selfhood whose attainment (variously known as "non-dual realization," "enlightenment," or "Christ consciousness") comprises the true fulfilment of our human journey. In this paper, Cynthia Bourgeault expounds that the way toward this state is through nurturing the heart in its foundational role as the seat of non-dual perception.

  • At 8:35 pm , Blogger Philip said...

    As a literary character perpetrated by various committees, Jesus is open to all sorts of interpretations, each as valid as the next. I am not sure how one can deny a dualistic ego in someone who zealously proclaimed the sorting of humankind into faithful sheep and combustible goats; certainly the Jesus of the canonical gospels is far more interested in power and punishment than in raising consciousness. The far more appealing teacher in the Gospel of Thomas may have a bit more of the Zen master about him, though.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home