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For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way. Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. So when evening was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day. But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.

— Matthew 20:1–16, King James Version


Conventional interpretations are to say that God welcomes everyone into his kingdom, even death bed converters. But Henri Nouwen in The Return of the Prodigal uses it to perform a complete about face for resentful thinking.

In this story, the older brother is resentful that his father welcomes his debauched, spendthrift brother home and hold a party for him, when he has stayed at home and been the dutiful son, but doesn’t get a lavish party in his name. As he seeths with resentment, he excluded himself from the party. Nouwen uses the Vineyard workers parable to switch this around: could the older brother be infused with joy at the forgiving nature and genorosity of his father?

There is another part that is interesting; the first workers agreed to the job at the standard rate and were probably happy to get the work. But then they feel hard done by when they see someone get more for less. Nothing has changed in their world, they have received what they thought was fair but now its all ruined.

Imagine being able to see the world with the wisdom of this parable! It is a state of gratitude, and an appreciation of all the abundance in the world. It could even mena that I could ejoy other’s abundance as it just shows me what’s in the world which I can take or leave as I choose. The heaviness of having and not having is gone and the meaning of stuff is relegated to its proper place.

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