I once heard a teaching series by way of internet radio from Pastor Tom Baker called “Renaming the Parables” (which you can order through here). In this teaching, he basically asserted 3 major points:
1. All scripture is written so that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ and have eternal life.
2. Christ’s Parables, therefore, are really about Christ so that we might hear the Gospel.
3. The Parables must be renamed so that they testify to the most important character in each parable, Christ.
The key word here is “Christ”. Take for instance the parable we are going to study, “The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard” in Matthew 20: 1-16. The parable needs to be renamed because the “workers in the vineyard” are secondary characters. If parables were to be named after secondary characters, then it would only seem logical that each of Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky” movies and sequals should actually be called “Adrian 1; Adrian 2; Clubber Lane; Ivan Drago; Tommy Gun, etc.”, but you see, they aren’t named after Rocky’s love interest or his foes, because these movies are about Rocky! So if we hold this standard for Hollywood thrillers, how much more should this be for the parables taught by Jesus. If you read my earlier post about “The Key to Scripture”, then you will recall that the key to opening the door of scripture is “Solus Christus” or Christ Alone. “Christ Alone”, therefore, is the key which must be used to understand the true meaning of the parables.
Now, you may be asking yourself, “So what is the point?” Well, to be blunt, we need to put the parables back in their proper place so that we keep in step with the purpose of scripture, “so that we might believe Jesus is the Christ and have eternal life”. Secondly, the Grace of God is radical as compared to the standards of the world. Where the world and the flesh teach “What goes around comes around” or “you get what you deserve”; the Gospel teaches the very opposite, that in Mercy we don’t get what we deserve (Death, final separation, hell, judgment, etc.), and on behelf of God’s love for us in Christ, in spite of what we deserve, we receive true life in the Fellowship of Jesus, peace of conscience, and life everlasting. Parables, then, are a testimony to “radical grace”, and the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard is the perfect example to this truth.
For instance, in this parable, we hear the story of how different workers were brought into a Landowner’s vineyard all throughout the hours of the day, and although each worked for a different amount of hours, all received the same pay. Of course the ones who were brought in to work the earliest were the most upset with the Landowner, and if this was a parable about how to run a vineyard, then they might have a case, but surely there is more to this parable than vineyard ethics?
If you have your Bible take a look at verse 4, “You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” Right from the start this parable gets very interesting, you see, the word used for “right” in this verse comes from the Greek word for “Justification”, being made just or righteous. The Landowner is really saying, “I will give to you what is ‘righteous'”. In light of “Solus Christus”, we know this “righteousness” is the gift of everlasting life in our Savior. The true and main character which we should be paying attention to is Christ the “Landowner”. This parable is John 3:16-17 fleshed out in story format; what we are reading is the Gospel! Pastor Beisel, a Lutheran Pastor out of Indiana had this to say about verses 9-12 of this parable:
Before we were called into this vineyard, which is the Church, we too were idle. We were sinful and unclean, by nature children of wrath, blind, dead, and enemies of God. But it was His gracious call, through holy Baptism, by which we entered His vineyard. It was by the toil and sacrifice of Jesus, God’s Son, that the inheritance of heaven now belongs to us. For it was Christ who “bore the burden of the day,” that is, Christ bore the weight and burden of the Law for us, so that we might bear his burden, which is easy and light. Christ bore the “scorching heat,” that is, he endured the fierce wrath of his heavenly Father which burned hotly on the cross, so we might be spared judgment. We are all “johnny-come-latelies” in light of the cross, for we receive equal pay as Jesus for truly unequal work. Christ does it all, He bears the burden of the law; He bears the weight and shame of the cross; He lives a perfectly obedient life in word and deed, not for his own sake, but for ours. He does the work, and we all get the same grade. He pleases His Father and in so doing wins His Father’s pleasure and favor toward us.
Amen. So what should be our new title for this parable? To avoid placing man as the center of scripture, it must no longer be called, “The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard”, but instead, “The Parable of the Generous Landowner”. With this new title, the focus is properly put back where it belongs, on Christ who unlocks the doors to scripture and pours forth His salvation.
For the next parable in our “Renaming Series”, we will take a look at Matthew 13: 44-46 called “The Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl”. A little hint to wet your whistle: It’s not about the “treasure” or the “pearl”. 🙂