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Redistribution and Reciprocity: A Socio-Economic Interpretation of the Parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20.1-15)

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While Matthew's parable of the labourers in the vineyard (20:1-15) is generally regarded as an analogy whereby the goodness of God is contrasted with human notions of justice and reward, when the socio-economic background of the parable is more fully taken into account, specifically the contexts of redistribution and reciprocity, it becomes clear that the parable functions on another level as well. The payment of an equal wage to all labourers regardless of time worked initiates a conflict between the landowner and the full-day workers due to the disruption of economic expectation which the equal payment represents. The parable reverses the worldly economic values of profit and self-interest and aims to demonstrate the possibility of a different kind of social obligation, one based not on debt but on more balanced forms of reciprocity.


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