Luke 18:1-8 & Matthew 20:1-16 – Faithfully Following The Lord’s Example

Shabbat Shalom. This morning, Lord willing, we will be covering two parables of Messiah Yeshua.  The parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge and the parable of the workers in the Vineyard.  Both parables have powerful lessons on justice and mercy and on following the Lord’s standard and not our own.  They are convicting parables that probe our hearts and what we truly believe in.

Our first parable for this morning is the Parable of the Persistent Widow and the Unjust Judge, found in Luke 18:1-8. Through this parable Messiah Yeshua teaches us the importance of being in constant prayer and not giving up.

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

The first verse helpfully explains the purpose of this parable. We should not give up praying when prayers are not answered as quickly as we want them to be. I think this can sometimes come from a lack of patience and I confess patience is something I struggle with. I don’t like to wait to do things and I do not like waiting for prayers to be answered. Whether it is something serious, like praying for someone ill, or just praying to make it somewhere on time, I am hoping for immediate results. Outside our community this is true as well. We live in a time of very instant gratification, with everything getting faster constantly. We expect things to happen immediately and if they don’t, we get upset. Every time a computer or phone freezes, or we must wait in line or traffic we tend to get irritated.

But there are also bigger issues that can cause us to give up. We hopefully pray daily for a variety of situations and as a congregation we pray together as well. However, not all those prayers may get answered. Many times, it can seem like nothing is changing, or things are just getting worse. It is possible for us to despair in those moments, to believe the adversary and assume it is all pointless and then we give up. We can allow grief, anger, impatience, or many other emotions to overwhelm us and stop us from praying and being faithful to the Lord.

As disciples of Messiah Yeshua we are called to be constant in prayer. Even if we do not immediately see an answer to our prayers, we need to keep praying. Even if we are suffering and seeing darkness all around us, we should not stop crying out to our heavenly Father. With the Lord’s Spirit we can overcome whatever situations we are in and keep our hope in the Lord despite our present suffering.

To help us understand this Messiah Yeshua tells us this story, this parable. There is a clear contrast between the poor faithful widow, and the faithless judge. Faithfully, she respectfully came before him to ask for justice in her life. Each time she was denied but she did not give up. We are not told how long she was persistent in her pleas and I believe that is intentional. It is not about the amount of time we spend but the character of our actions. Finally, after an unknown number of pleas something changed.

4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

This unjust judge is only concerned with himself. He does not care about this widows’ issues just how her actions have and might affect him. He does not care about God, fairness, or goodness either. He just selfishly thinks about himself.  Clearly the widow is who we are to be like, and the judge is who we are to avoid acting like.

Unfortunately, there are many judges and leaders today who act in a similar way to this man.  They care only about how to enrich themselves and have no compassion for those in need.  If this woman was rich or influential then probably this judge would have been more willing to help her.  We can see the character of a person not in how they treat their friends or those equal in status, but how they treat those with less.  How we treat the poor and vulnerable reveals the true nature of our souls. Fortunately, we do not come before a judge like this man, but someone much more wonderful. Messiah Yeshua continues with how the True Judge operates.

6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Unlike this unjust judge, the True Judge of all cares for us deeply. He cares about justice and shows mercy to those who are His disciples. Justice will be done, but it is based on Adonai’s timetable, not our own. As we read in His Word about the great Day of The Lord, justice and judgement will happen quickly.  We know that the Lord is completely faithful to His promises and whatever He sets out to do happens. If even an unjust judge eventually does what is right, then how much more will the Lord carry out His justice and how much more quickly?

The “quickly” in this passage though has been an issue for many who read it. Every generation, starting with the Apostles, prayed and hoped for Messiah Yeshua’s return in their lifetime and until now we still wait. We pray that speedily and soon He will return, and while we hope we will live to see it, this parable reminds us not to give up. We are called to be alert and ready for His return.  But Yeshua’s question at the end of this parable is a sobering reminder that faithfulness requires diligence.  If the Lord returned right now, this very moment, how many would He find faithfully waiting?  Would He find us faithfully waiting like the widow or absorbed in ourselves like the judge?

As we wrap up our time in this parable this morning let me make one final point. This parable convicts us to restore our faithfulness to Adonai if it has waned. If we have become sidetracked by the world around us, we need to get off that path.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit we can turn back to Adonai. Therefore, we need to cry out to the Lord in prayer and ask Him to give us lasting faithfulness grounded in His Word. If we do, then when the Lord returns and brings about His justice, we will find ourselves vindicated like this widow, instead of being punished with those like the judge.

As we turn our attention to our next parable this morning, we will see in a different way how our selfish desires can rob us of our faithfulness.  Our second parable is The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. We find this parable in Matthew 20:1-16. This teaching has had many different interpretations over the centuries. Some have seen it as a picture of God’s grace and the gift of salvation. Others have read this parable as a commentary on different economic systems, such as capitalism or communism. Still others see this as a teaching against the Jewish Pharisees. I believe that the true meaning of this parable is to stand against envy and desire among Messiah’s Community of disciples. Before we look at Matthew 20, I want to first discuss Matthew 19 for some context.

Towards the end of Matthew 19 we are told a story about a rich religious man who came before Messiah Yeshua to ask what he should do to obtain eternal life. After being told to keep the Lord’s commandments, Rabbi Yeshua invited him to become one of His Talmidim, his disciple, and receive treasure in Heaven. There was just one thing he needed to do first, sell his riches to the poor. We read that the rich man, presented with the opportunity to study under the Messiah Himself left disappointed, because he could not bear to part with his riches. After the man leaves Messiah Yeshua comments to His disciples that it is harder for those who are rich to enter the kingdom of Heaven.

After hearing this the disciples are shocked and doubt anyone can be saved. But, Messiah Yeshua affirms that in God all things are possible. Peter declares that they have left everything to follow Yeshua and asks what their reward will be. Our Lord replies that they will rule on thrones in heaven with Him forever. We are also promised that for everything we have sacrificed for the Lord in this life, we will receive back 100 times more in the next, along with eternal life. Matthew 19 ends with a verse we will see repeated in our parable today, that many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first. We will unpack the meaning of this interesting verse in a little bit. But as we read Matthew 20, I want us to keep in mind that Yeshua is talking to His followers and that we can see that His disciples are struggling with the sacrifices they have made along with envy.

We begin in Matthew 20:

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

The Kingdom of Heaven refers to God’s kingdom. The Landowner here is God. According to Snodgrass a denarius for a day’s wage was normal for workers during this time. But this is not a very large sum of money. Day workers were some of the most impoverished people in the ancient world and were to be paid daily for their work because of it. The Lord commanded that they be paid daily in Deuteronomy 24 because of their extreme poverty.  We continue with Messiah’s story.

3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. “He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 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?’ “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

It was common during this time to go out and hire day laborers in this way, but to repeatedly go out is probably exaggerated for the sake of the parable. Most landowners know how many workers they are going to need in a day and would not be making three trips to find people.

8 “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.’

Clearly this is not the normal way to pay people. Those who started later are getting paid before those who started earlier. But we see that this unusual order of paying is important to the end of this story and the point Yeshua is trying to make.

9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘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.’

We expect, like the workers, that the owner will pay them proportional to the work they have done. The ones who worked for the entire day feel they deserve the entire denarius, and they believe those who worked less deserve less. They are clearly upset, upset enough to even speak against the landowner. Many people have read these verses and come away with different views on economic systems. They are interested in how this parable comments on ideas found in communism, socialism, capitalism, etc. But I do not believe we should be reading this parable to figure out how to structure our economies. The point of this parable is found in the attitudes of the workers as we continue.

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

As we reflect on this teaching the first thing that stands out to me is the attitude of the workers. They have an “envious eye”, or an “evil eye”, a Jewish way to refer to someone desiring what someone else has. The earlier workers are looking at the wages of those who started later and are deeply envious over them getting the same wages for way less work. The landowner is correct in saying he has given to each worker what he promised, and they agreed to. It is his money to spend how he wishes, and they cannot control him. If he wants to be generous with those who are poor, why should they care?

But they are human like us, and we care about what other people receive. If two people in identical circumstances do the same kind of work, we believe they should be paid the same, equal pay for equal work. But we also believe the opposite is true, that two people who do unequal work deserve unequal pay. This is the principle of justice and fairness behind the workers who grumbled to the landowner.

But if the landowner had given those who worked later less, they would have become even more impoverished without having enough to live on.  Where does mercy factor into our calculations? The grumbling workers knew how badly everyone needed their pay, but they let envy harden their hearts. The fact is no one was harmed by the owner being more generous, everyone received the minimum they deserved, just some received more. If the owner had decided to give them all 3 Denarea would things still have been unfair? Or would everyone receiving more than they deserved be enough to stop the grumbling? I think for some they would have been satisfied if everyone had received more, but still others would have complained. As fallen human beings we tend to always want more, especially more than those around us we are comparing ourselves to.

The fact is that a lot of what we call “justice”, is really window dressing for envy and jealousy.  When we see good things happening to others, maybe in real life or on Facebook we can feel tinges of jealousy and anger. Psychological studies have shown the longer we spend online looking at the lives of others the worse it is for our mental health. Whether it is stuff, wages, or just our general lives, we tend to compare it to others, and then feel upset if they have more than us.

We can also see this comparison in how people treat those who make minimum wage, a wage that has not increased nationally since 2009. Those who are poor are stereotyped as lazy or stupid and looked down upon based on what they earn. Now I am very aware the issues around raising the minimum wage are complex and that’s not the argument I am trying to make here. My point is that one emotional reason against a minimum wage increase is how people who make a higher wage would feel if that was much closer to the minimum wage.  When discussing raising the minimum wage to a so-called living wage of $15, I have heard many people speak about these issues from a place of jealousy and envy.  It is hard for us to see other people receiving great generosity if there is not a little for us too.

If this parable is directed towards the Lord’s followers, then the lesson we are being taught here is to not be too preoccupied with what other people are receiving from the Lord.  Unlike the rich man, the Lord shows His goodness in how generously He gives to us. But we should not be concerned about how much we are given compared to someone else or their position in the kingdom of God.

We know from this parable and elsewhere that the Lord will richly bless us for the work we do for Him, but it will be based on His standards and not our own. The Lord is a God of Justice, but His justice is not flawed like ours. He perfectly judges all and hears the pleas of those who are vulnerable like a widow. Adonai is also a God of compassion and mercy. In the Landowner’s generosity we see justice as well as mercy and compassion. He fairly and honestly rewards his workers for their hard work, but also provides enough for those who are most in need. Everyone has been paid not based on their amount of work, but given enough that they may live, which is more important. The Lord does as He will, and we are not in a place to question it, especially not from a place of envy or jealousy.

As Messiah’s community we need to be different than the envy and jealousy found in the world around us. We need to be more concerned about building one another up and not tearing each other down.  There are no second-class citizens in the Lord’s Kingdom, and we have the promise of rich rewards as we store our treasures in heaven and not on Earth.  We should not be envious when people are blessed, and we should not obsess over making sure we receive what we believe is our “fair share”.  Instead, we should be more like the Lord, the good Landowner.  We should look for opportunities to use our resources to bless others and be more focused on the needs of others.

Finally, Messiah Yeshua taught us that the last will be first, and the first will be last. In Matthew 19 the rich man may be first in the world because of his position, but he will be last in God’s Kingdom, because he was unwilling to sacrifice for Messiah Yeshua.  In contrast the disciples may have been last in the world because of their status, but they will be first in God’s kingdom because of how much they have given up for the Lord. In this parable we see the surprise of the workers when the first are literally last and the last to work are literally first to be paid.  Their surprise will be ours I think when we get to heaven.  The lord’s value system is very different than our human one. Many who are despised by this world for their faith in Messiah Yeshua will be greatly rewarded in heaven.  Many who spend their time earning rewards here will have very little reward in heaven. May we be last in the world’s eyes if it means be first in the Lord’s.

Both the parable of the Persistent Widow and Unjust Judge and the parable of the Workers in the Vineyard teach us the importance of justice and compassion.  They also teach us the importance of acting based on the Lord’s standard and not our own.  We live in a world where we are always having to go against the flow.  Against the flow of wickedness, corrupting, sinfulness, selfishness, envy, and jealousy that is trying to sweep us away.  It is only through understanding the Lord’s standard of living and being filled with His spirit, that we can push forward against these dark currents and faithfully reach the shores of heaven.

As we examine our lives and attitudes it is my prayer that we would look a bit different than the dark world around us.  That as we navigate issues of justice and mercy, of being generous and sacrificing, or being faithful in prayer, we would shine with the light and character of our wonderful Messiah. May the Lord enable us to have generous hearts and have our eyes fixed on Him and not other people.  May each of us have a faithfulness that cannot be extinguished and that endures in the face of darkness and suffering.  Finally, on the glorious day we are brought together with the Lord may each of us be first in His kingdom and not last.  Each of us enjoying the precious treasure of eternal life with Him and all the other wonderful treasures that He has prepared for us forever with Him.