Some learned translators into English of the biography of Jesus Christ by Matthew translate the above question more loosely as, “Are you envious because I am generous?” But the original Greek is precisely as above.
That being so, what a terrific, shattering question this was.....and is......
Think about it in the Jersey context with regard to employers. First, are there any good employers?
Well, yes. Some employers are good, some bad.
But are there any as good as the employer in Jesus’ story? In the story the employer appointed his vineyard workers on a day-work basis. He went very early in the morning to the place where those seeking farm work gathered. He chose those whom he needed and agreed their daily rate with them: one denarius (a silver coin worth about £60 in today’s money in Jersey).
Fair enough. The trouble was, however, that this employer also went out to the same place at 0900 hours and at noon and at 1500 hours. And he asked those who were there then to go into his vineyard and work for the remainder of the day. He even did the same just an hour before dark knowing that those workers would do less than an hour that day.
Like every good employer, he paid his workers immediately – daily work so daily pay. But he paid first of all those who had started work the last of all in the day. They received £60. Those who had joined at 1500 hours also received £60 and so did all the others.
Can you see why the dispute arose?
Yes, indeed. When those hired early in the morning came to collect their pay, they complained that the amount received was only £60.
What would the Unite or the States of Jersey Manual Workers’ Joint Council - or the other trade unions and staff associations - do in similar circumstances in Jersey today?
Good question. At the urgently convened meeting, the employer drew attention to the contract terms of the early-engaged workers - £60 for the day – and asked if that had been agreed. Then he gently said, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?” And followed that with, “Is your eye evil because I am good (Greek = agathos)?
Back to the earlier question: are there any really good employers in Jersey – indeed, any good men or women (employers or not) who pay greatly over the odds purely out of loving kindness?
Jesus said to a very rich man on another occasion, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone?” (Same word in the Greek, agathos = good)
The “eye” of the most hard-working employee sees “evil” in a good employer who is generous, totally generous, to others.
Is that also the reason why so many see “evil” in the mind-boggling generosity of the man, Jesus Christ, who was prepared to die for the sake of others, to die so as to bless them?
I don’t know.
But I guess that the same reason will be behind those who see evil in “good” Christians, all sinners, who follow closely this generous man.