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PARABLE OF LABOURERS.
reward. Wbat shall be our Inoavpòs év ovpavois, treasure in heaven? This question, not reprehensible in itself, breathed a bad spirit of overweening confidence and self-esteem, by its evident comparison with the young man: We have done all that you demand of him; we forsook our all; what treasure shall be ours in heaven? Jesus did not at once rebuke what was bad in the question, but, first, graciously responded to what was good in it. These disciples, who did truly leave all and follow him, shall not go without blissful reward. “Verily, I say unto you that ye, who followed me, in the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit upon the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” This was, virtually, making to them a promise and pledge of what they should have in the future, but he adds: "And every one who forsook houses, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or children, or lands for my name's sake, shall receive manifold more,' and shall inherit life eternal.” Here is a common inheritance and blessing promised to all who meet the conditions named. But in addition to this great reward, which is common alike to all, there will be distinctions and differences; and so it is immediately added : “But many first will be last and last first.” And from this last statement the parable immediately proceeds: "For (yáp) the kingdom of heaven is like,” etc. This connexion Stier recognizes: “Because Peter has inquired after reward and compensation, Christ says, first of all, what is contained in verses 28, 29; but because he has asked with a culpable eagerness for reward, the parable concerning the first and the last follows with its earnest warning and rebuke.”? But to say, in the face of such a connexion and context, that the reward contemplated in the penny has no reference to eternal life, but is to be understood solely of temporal good which may lead to damnation, is virtually to ignore and defy the context, and bring in a strange and foreign thought. The scope of the parable is no doubt to admonish Peter and the rest against the mercenary spirit and self-conceit apparent in his question, but it concludes, as Meyer observes, “and that very appropriately, with language which no doubt allows the apostles to contemplate the prospect of receiving rewards of a peculiarly distinguished character (xix, 28), but does not warrant the absolute certainty of it, nor does it recognize the existence of any thing like 80-called valid claims.”
Tokhanhaoiova is the reading of two most ancient codices, B and L, a number of versions, as Syriac and Sahidic, and is adopted by Lachmann, Alford, Tischendorf, Tregelles, and Westcott and Hort. Comp. Luke xviii, 30. 3 Words of the Lord Jesus, in loco.
Commentary on Matt. xx, 16.
Having ascertained the historical occasion and scope, the next step is to analyze the subject matter, and note what appears to
have special prominence. It will hardly be disputed Prominent points in the that the particular agreement of the householder with parables. the labourers hired early in the morning is one point too prominent to be ignored in the exposition. Noticeable also is the fact that the second class (hired at the third hour) go to work without any special bargain, and rely on the word “whatsoever is right I will give you.” So also with those called at the sixth and ninth hours. But those called at the eleventh hour received (according to the true text of verse 7) no special promise at all, and nothing is said to them about reward. They had been waiting and seem to have been anxious for a call to work, and were idle because no one had hired them, but as soon as an order came they went off to their labour, not stopping so much as to speak or hear about wages. In all this it does not appear that the different hours have any special significance; but we are rather to note the spirit and disposition of the different labourers, particularly the first and the last hired. In the account of the settlement at the close of the day, only these last and the first are mentioned with any degree of prominence. The last are the first rewarded, and with such marks of favour that the self-conceit and mercenary spirit of those who, in the early morning, bad made a special bargain for a penny a day, are shown in words of fault finding, and elicit the rebuke of the householder and the declaration of his absolute right to do what he will with his own.
If now we interpret these several parts with strict reference to The parable the occasion and scope of the parable, we must think primarily
for of the apostles as those for whom its admonition admonition for the disciples. was first of all intended. What was wrong in the spirit of Peter's question called for timely rebuke and admonition. Jesus gives him and the others assurance that no man who becomes his disciple shall fail of glorious reward; and, somewhat after the style of the agreement with the labourers first hired, he bargains with the twelve, and agrees that every one of them shall have a throne. But, he adds (for such is the simplest application of the proverb, “Many first shall be last,” etc.): Do not imagine, in vain self-co it, that, because you were the first to leave all and follow me, you therefore must needs be honoured more than others who may hereafter enter my service. That is not the noblest spirit which asks, What shall I have? It is better to ask, What shall I do? He who follows Christ, and makes all manner of sacrifices for his sake, confident that it will be well, is nobler than he who
THE UNJUST STEWARD.
lingers to make a bargain. Nay, he who goes into the Lord's vineyard asking no questions, and not even waiting to talk about the wages, is nobler and better still. His spirit and labour, though it continue but as an hour, may bave qualities so beautiful and rare as to lead Him, whose heavenly rewards are gifts of grace, and not payments of debts, to place him on a more conspicuous throne than that which any one of the apostles may attain. The murmuring, and the response which it draws from the householder, are not to be taken as a prophecy of what may be expected to take place at the final judgment, but rather as a suggestive hint and warning for Peter and the rest to examine the spirit in which they followed Jesus.
If this be the real import of the parable, how misleading are those expositions which would make the penny a day the most prominent point. How unnecessary and irrelevant to regard the words of the householder in verses 13–16) as equivalent to the final sentence of damnation, or to attach special significance to the standing idle. How unimportant the different hours at which the labourers were hired, or the question whether the householder be God or Christ. The interpretation which aims to maintain the unity of the whole narrative, and make prominent the great central truth, will see in this parable a tender admonition and a suggestive warning against the wrong spirit evinced in Peter's words.
The parable of the unjust steward (Luke xvi, 1-13) has been regarded, as above all others, a crux interpretum. It appears to have no such historical or logical connexion Unjust Steward. with what precedes as will serve in any material way to help in its interpretation. It follows immediately after the three parables of the lost sheep, the lost drachma, and the prodigal son, which were addressed to the Pharisees and the scribes who murmured because Jesus received sinners and ate with them (chap. xv, 2). Having uttered those parables for their special benefit, he spoke one “also to the disciples” (kai mpòs tous paontás, xvi, 1). These disciples are probably to be understood of that wider circle which included others besides the twelve (compare Luke x, 1), and among them were doubtless many publicans like Matthew and Zacchæus, who needed the special lesson here enjoined. That lesson is now quite generally acknowledged to be a wise and prudent use of this world's goods. For the sagacity, shrewd foresight, and care to
Parable of the
The words, "For many are called, but few chosen," which appear in some ancient codices (C, D, N), at the close of verse 16, are wanting in the oldest and best manuscripts (X, B, L, Z), and are rejected by the best textual critics (Tischendorf, Tregelles, Westcott and Hort). We have, therefore, taken no notice of them above.
shift for himself, which the steward evinced in his hasty action with his lord's debtors (opoviuoc émoindev, ver. 8), are emphatically the tertium comparationis, and are said to have been applauded (ÉTTývegev) even by his master. The parable first of all demands that we apprehend correctly the
literal import of its narrative, and avoid the reading or additions to the imagining in it any thing that is not really there. parable.
Thus, for example, it is said the steward was accused of wasting the rich man's goods, and it is nowhere intimated that this accusation was a slander. We have, therefore, no right (as Köster) to assume that it was. Neither is there any warrant for saying (as Van Oosterzee and others) that the steward had been guilty of exacting excessive and exorbitant claims of his lord's debtors, remitting only what was equitable to his lord, and wasting the rest on himself; and that his haste to have them write down their bills to a lower amount was simply, on his part, an act of justice toward them and an effort to repair his former wrongs. If such had been the fact he would not have wasted his lord's goods (Tà ÚTrápxovta aŭtoồ), but those of the debtors. Nor is there any ground to assume that the steward made restitution from his own funds (Brauns), or, that his lord, after commending his prudence, retained him in his service (Baumgarten-Crusius). All this is putting into the narrative of our Lord what he did not see fit to put there.
We are to notice, further, that Jesus himself applies the parable to Jesus' own ap- the disciples by his words of counsel and exhortation in plication. verse 9, and makes additional comments on it in verses 10–13. These comments of the author of the parable are to be carefully studied as containing the best clue to his meaning. The main lesson is given in verse 9, where the disciples are urged to imitate the prudence and wisdom of the unjust steward in making to themselves friends out of unrighteous mammon (ÉK TOŨ, K. T. d., from the resources and opportunities afforded by the wealth, or the worldly goods, in their control). The steward exhibited in his shrewd plan the quick sagacity of a child of the world, and knew well how to ingratiate himself with the men of his own kind and generation. In this respect it is said the children of this age are wiser than the children of the light;' therefore, our Lord would say,
The latter part of verse 8 is, literally, “Because the sons of this age are wiser than the sons of the light in reference to their own generation.” Not in their generation, as Authorized Version, but eis trv yeveàv TÌv lavt@v, for their generation, as regards, or in relation to, their own generation. “The whole body of the children of the world -a category of like-minded men-is described as a generation, a clan of connexions, and how appropriately, since they appear precisely as vioi, sons.”—Meyer. “The ready accomplices in the steward's fraud showed themselves to be men of the same
THE UNJUST STEWARD.
emulate and imitate them in this particular. Similarly, on another occasion, he had enjoined upon his disciples, when they were sent forth into the hostile world, to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves (Matt. x, 16).
So far all is tolerably clear and certain, but when we inquire Who is the rich man (in verse 1), and who are the friends who receive into the eternal tabernacles (verse 9), we find great diversity of opinion among the best interpreters. Usually the rich man has been understood of God, as the possessor of all things, who uses us as his stewards of whatever goods are entrusted to our care. Olshausen, on the other hand, takes the rich man to be the devil, considered as the prince of this world. Meyer explains the rich man as Mammon, and urges that verses 9 and 13 especially require this view. It will be seen that the adoption of either one of these views will materially effect our exegesis of the whole parable. Here, then, especially, we need to make a most careful use of the second and third hermeneutical rules afore mentioned, and observe the nature and properties of the things employed as imagery, and interpret them with strict reference to the great central thought and to the general scope and design of the whole. Our choice would seem to lie between the common view and that of Meyer; for Olshausen's explanation, so far as it differs essentially from Meyer's, has nothing in the text to make it even plausible; and the other views (as of Schleiermacher, who makes the rich man represent the Romans, and Grossmann, who understands the Roman emperor) have still less in their favour. The common exposition, which takes the rich man to be God, may be accepted and maintained without serious difficulty. The details of the parable are then to be explained as incidental, designed merely to exhibit the shrewdness of the unjust steward, and no other analogies are to be pressed. The disciples are urged to be discreet and faithful to God in their use of the unrighteous mammon, and thereby secure the friendship of God, Christ, angels, and their fellow men,' who may
generation as he was s—they were all of one race, children of the ungodly world.”Trench. There is no sufficient reason to supply the thought, or refer the phrase, their own generation, to the sons of light (as De Wette, Olshausen, Trench, and many). If that were the thought another construction could easily have been adopted press it clearly. As it stands, it means that the children of light do not, in general, in relation to themselves or others, evince the prudence and sagacity which the children of the world know so well how to use in their relations to their own race of worldlings.
Some, however, who adopt this exposition in general, will not allow that God or the angels are to be understood by the friends, inasmuch as such reference would not accord strictly with the analogy of the parable.