13 March 2008

St. Matthew Bible Study - Lesson 20

I keep falling behind with these notes. Guess it's good that there are only 28 chapters in Matthew and we just completed Chapter 22, not too many left. So, I'm a few behind again. Here's Chapter 20.

Pertinent excerpt from the Voices of the Saints in our class notes:
Some grumbled that God's justice is flawed in admitting some into the kingdom in what seemed an untimely way. Even being last in the kingdom on God is an incalculable gift. No one should begrudge God's generosity in allowing some who worked less to come in to the kingdom with some who worked more. God is not less good because we in our distorted perception think we have been unfairly treated.
- St. Gregory the Great

The chapter starts out with the parable of the laborers who come to work in the vineyard for a denarius a day. Some come early, some later, and some come very late in the evening. All received the same wage. There was much grumbling and gnashing of teeth about how unfair this was.

But the reply is, "My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? (Or) am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous? Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last." In this case, the vineyard is a symbol for God's people and the denarius was the typical daily wage. The early laborers are the Israelites, then the tax collectors, then the Samaritans, and then the late-comers are the Gentiles.

Father Echert said that this was not an act against justice to pay them all the same wage and the parable isn't about wages in the earthly sense. God is not being unfair to Israel, just generous to the Gentiles. We shouldn't think of God as an employer, owner or master and see our relationship in a legalistic way (the workers in the parable are addressed as "Friend"), but as a covenant and familial relationship. In a family, the younger children aren't considered as lesser members of the family than the older ones.

Father said that the first covenant people and the last did not deserve the opportunity of having a covenant with God. It is all God's generosity. We see the manifestation of the resentment of the people -- they should be grateful and welcome others, there is no loss to the first workers. Jewish people of the day resented the Gentiles being included without having to adopt the laws and requirements that the Jews had (primarily from living under the Old Covenant).

Haydock (who you should really check out) has some lengthy comments on the subject:
Many of the fathers suppose that the saints of different states and degrees are here designed, whose reward will suffer no diminution from the circumstances of their having come to the service of Christ at a late age of the world, according to Sts. Hilary, Gregory, and Theophylactus; or, at a late age of life, according to Sts. Basil, Jerome, and Fulgentius. In the latter case, however, we must understand that their greater fervour in co-operating with divine grace, in the latter part of their life, has supplied and compensated for the defect of their preceding negligence; hence it may sometimes happen that the reward of such as enter late in life on the service of God, will exceed that of the less fervent who have entered at an earlier period. But as Christ rather seems to speak here of his militant than his triumphant Church, many commentators explain the parable of the Jews and Gentiles. For the Jews, after bearing the yoke of the Mosaic law for so many ages, received nothing more than what was promised to the observance of that law; whilst Christians receive a more plentiful reward for their more easy labour under the sweet yoke of the gospel. In which sense Christ says to the Jews, Luke xiii. 29: Publicans and harlots shall go before you into the kingdom of heaven. "And, strangers shall come from the east, and from the west, and the north, and the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God. And behold they are last that shall be first, and they are first that shall be last." (Luke xiii. 30.) --- Hence the Jews may be supposed to murmur, that they who are first in their vocation to be the people of God, and first in the observance of his law, should not be preferred to others, who in these respects have been far posterior to them. (Tirinus) --- By the vineyard, says St. Chrysostom, we here understand, the commandments of God. The time for labour is the present life. In the first, third, sixth, ninth, and eleventh hours, i.e. in infancy, youth, manhood, declining years, and extreme decrepitude of age, many individuals, yielding to the effective call of God, labour in the exact performance of the divine commandments. (Hom. lxv.)

In Matthew 20:17-19, we see Jesus predicting His death for the third time. This time we hear that the Pharisees will collaborate with the Roman leaders/Herodians to bring about Jesus' death. And, this time we are told His death is to be by crucifixion, he will be "delivered to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged, and crucified, and He will be raised on the third day."

Jealousy and envy
Oh those silly boys. Jesus just tells how He is going to be brutally murdered and then James and John are asking (or having their mother intercede for them) to sit at Jesus' right hand and left hand. Wow. If I was dying and someone asked me if they could have my car, I don't think I'd be too happy with them, but James and John collectively with their mama, are shameless. And clueless. Jesus tell them they don't know what they are asking for...oh, and careful what you wish for boys, cuz Jesus even said you would share in His cup ("You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.").

Our class notes say, "Surprisingly, Jesus doesn't rebuke the mother for making such a request, nor does he condemn James and John for their ambition. Instead, Jesus says: "You do not know what you are asking." What Jesus knows, that James and John and their mother don't know, is that the Son of Man's entrance into the kingdom of Heaven won't come about with parades and pomp but through mockery, scourging and crucifixion.

The Old Testament view of the cup was one of punishment and suffering, but in the New Testament it is for the sacrament of the Eucharist.

This chapter takes a look at the difference between jealousy and envy. Jealousy seeks what a person has; envy seeks to destroy what another person has. Again from the class notes: The reactions of the other 10 disciples to the ambition of James and John provide valuable insight into the distinction between jealousy and envy. Jesus doesn't rebuke James and John, nor does he side with the other 10 disciples. James and John -- are, in a sense, jealous for a greater share of divine glory. The other 10 disciples aren't jealous, they're envious. Jealousy, properly understood, is a quality God even ascribes to Himself on occasion: "I the Lord your God am a jealous God." (Exodus 20:5) In the human realm, jealousy, though often evil, can be good when it's related to the idea of proper zeal for things pertaining to God and to the spiritual life. The word "jealous" is related to the idea of zeal. Envy is only and always evil. James and John were jealous, or zealous, to take a step up in the kingdom of heaven. The other disciples simply are envious and want to take James and John down a peg.

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