the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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The Labourer with the Evil Eye
Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters
AESOP'S dog in the manger, and our Lord's labourer with the evil eye, are two companion portraits. Æsop's famous fable taught the very same lesson in ancient Greece that our Lord's present parable taught to Israel in His own day, and still teaches to Christendom in our day.
But before we come to that, there are one or two preliminary lessons that we are intended to learn from the very framework, so to call it, of this parable. And to begin with, let us look well at this unheard-of husbandman. For the like of this husbandman has never been seen before nor since in Galilee, nor in Jewry, nor in Samaria, nor anywhere else. This singular husbandman plants and reaps his vineyard less for the sake of his vines, than for the sake of his vinedressers. This so altruistic husbandman, as we would call him, occupies his vineyard not at all for his own advantage, but for the sole advantage of his labourers. Their well-being is better to him than all the wine they will ever produce. Indeed, and to let out the whole truth at once, this husbandman is a perfect portrait of God the Father, drawn by the skilful and loving hand of God the Son. My Father is the husbandman, says our Lord in another parable. And it must be so here also. For no other husbandman in all the world ever went out at all hours of the day to hire his labourers, and at the same wages. No other husbandman could afford to pay for one hour's work in the evening of the day as much as he pays for the burden and heat of the whole day. No; this husbandman's portrait is no pure invention of our Lord's sanctified genius, as some of His other portraits are. This is no original stroke of our Lord's holy and fruitful imagination. This is as real and as genuine a likeness as is the likeness of the snarling labourer himself. Only, the snarling and snapping labourer is a likeness taken from this envious and spiteful earth. Whereas this husbandman is the speaking likeness of Heavenly Love. My Father is the husbandman.
"Which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard." Ah, me! With what a sharp stroke does that incidental-looking statement come home to those of us the morning of whose days is now long past! For we remember well how God came to us early in our life, and before we had as yet hired ourselves out to other masters. O young people, if you would only believe it! If we could only put our old hearts into your young bosoms! How fast you would fall in with the husbandman's earliest offer! And what a life of blows, and starvation, and all kinds of cruel usage, would you thus escape! Satisfy our children, O Lord, early with Thy mercy, that they may rejoice and be glad in Thee all their days.
But of all the hours of this husbandman's labourer-hiring days it is His eleventh hour that comes most home to my own heart. It is His eleventh hour that makes all us old men to exclaim-Who is a God like unto Thee! Whether any young people will be won to God through this scripture tonight, I do not know. But I will answer for some of the old. For He came to us also at the first hour of the day, and at the third hour of the day, and at the sixth hour, and at the ninth hour. But if He will still take us at the eleventh hour, we are His on the spot. The holy child Samuel, and many more early-called, and early-employed, children of God have had their own long and happy lives of highly rewarded labour. But the thought of all such holy and happy labourers is a positive hindrance and stumbling-block to us. All such wise and good men are a rebuke to us rather than an encouragement. It is the thief on the cross who, of all saved men, is our especial example. The thief on the cross was the great eleventh-hour labourer of our Lord's day, and we come into the vineyard with him. At the end of our evil life we come with him. When the sins of our youth, and all our sins, have found us out we come with him. When the wages of our life-long service of sin has become death to us also we come with him. When this mocking taunt is thrown in our teeth,-What fruit have ye now of those things of which ye are now ashamed? we come with him. Those who are still in the early morning of their days have never heard of the thief on the cross. They have never once read his so heart-encouraging history. It is not yet written for their learning. Not till they are as old as we are will they be able to read the thief's so heartening history as we read it. But it is now the eleventh hour with us as it was with him, and we come with him. Since God takes the bitterest dregs of our sinful lives, and, like this husbandman, pays so altruistically for them, we come. Take us, O God; O do Thou take us. And where our sin has abounded, let Thy grace much more abound.
Is thine eye evil? said the good husbandman to the murmuring labourer. Now, an "evil eye" is just our old Bible English for the Latin word "invidia." Is thine heart so selfish and so envious as that? was what our Lord said to this man who could not enjoy his own wages for grudging and growling at his neighbour's wages. Æsop's dog in the manger had his own bone, and he did not deny that it was both a big and a sweet bone. But he was such a hound at heart that he could not see his master's ox beginning to munch his bottle of straw in his manger without snarling and snapping at him. And no more did this dog of a labourer complain that his wages were not quite enough for all the work he had done. All his unhappiness lay in this that his neighbour had so much wages to take home with him that night to his happy wife and children. He did not complain that he was underpaid himself. All his misery came from this, that his fellow-servant was so much overpaid. Both Æsop's dog, and our Lord's dog-like labourer, were sick of that strange disease,-their neighbour's health. This wretched creature was so full of an evil eye that every one must have seen it. Even if he hadheld his peace every one must have seen his evil heart running out of his eye. Even if you were a perfect stranger to me; even if I had never seen you before, I would undertake to tell to all men the name of the man you both envy and hate, if I were near enough to see your eye when your rival is being praised and rewarded in your presence. Nay, I would know it from the very tone of your voice; aye, from the very cough in your throat. For envy, like love, will out. And, as our Lord is always saying to us, it will out at the eye. "As to the motive of those attacks on Goethe," says Heine, "I know at least what it was in my own case. It was my evil eye." Now, who is your Goethe? Who is your fellow-labourer in your special line of life? "Potter envies potter," says Aristotle. Who is your companion-potter? And do you have the self-knowledge that even poor Heine had, to say to yourself every day-'As for these dislikes, and aversions, and antipathies, that I feel in my heart; as well as for these depreciations and contempts that pass continually through my tongue and my pen; I know what their motive is in my own case at least, it is in my own evil eye.'
Envy so parched my blood, that had I seen
A fellow man made joyous, thou hadst mark'd
A livid paleness overspread my cheek.
Such harvest reap I of the seed I sow'd.
O man, why place thy heart where there doth need
Exclusion of participants in good?
If he is rightly reported, a Greek commentator who bears a great name makes a very shallow remark at this point. He says that it is difficult for him to believe that any man who is really within the kingdom of heaven himself, and is in its service, and is receiving its rewards, could have an evil eye at another man for his work and for his wages in that kingdom. A more stupid remark never fell from an able man's pen. A more senseless and self-exposing annotation was never made. A young friend of Mr. George Meredith's once came to him in an agony of pain and shame. "This is too bad of you!" he cried. "Willoughby is me!" "No, my dear fellow," said the great writer, "Willoughby is all of us." And in like manner, instead of it being difficult to believe that there was ever such a dog in the manger as this murmuring labourer, we are all such dogs, and he who does not know and confess it-the shell is yet on his head. Yes, Willoughby is all of us. The truth is, an evil eye, like this labourer's evil eye, is not only in all our hearts, but it is the agony of every truly good man's heart that it is so: it is very hell itself to every truly good man's heart that it is so: to every man's heart who is so much as even beginning to know what true goodness really is. Instead of there being no envy among the disciples of Jesus Christ, and among those who labour in His Father's vineyard, as this stupid old annotator would have us believe; instead of that, the true hellishness of envy is never tasted by any man till he is far up in the kingdom of heaven, and is full of its mind and spirit. Dante was far up on his way to Paradise when the fine dialogue on envy and on love took place. Dante sounds his deepest depths in his heart-searching cantos on envy, even as his most seraphic flights are taken in his cantos on love.
"Behold we have forsaken all, and followed Thee; what shall we have therefore?" That miserable speech of Peter's, which gave occasion to this parable, utterly vitiated all Peter's previous work for his Master, however hard he had worked, and however much he had forsaken for his Master's cause. For it is yet another of the absolute principles of this noble vineyard that it is motive in its labourers that counts with its Master. It is motive alone that counts with Him, far more than strength, or skill, or early morning promptitude and punctuality, in His labourers. Unless all these admirable qualities are informed and animated by the right motives, they all go for next to nothing in this so singular and so spiritual vineyard. "An unexamined life is no true life at all," Socrates kept saying continually, as he both examined his own motives every day and set all other men on the daily examination of their own motives. We know from Peter's own mouth what his motives had been in his discipleship up till now. And Peter's shame is told us here that we may see our own shame in our own motives also and up till now. Why, then, do I do this and that work in the vineyard? Why do I study? Why do I preach? Why do I visit the sick and dying? Why am I an elder? Why am I a deacon? Why do I subscribe to this fund and that? Why am I a Sabbath-school teacher? And why am I a member of this church rather than of that? It is our mean and self-seeking motives that lurk so unexamined in our hearts that make us all so many dogs in the manger, and so many envious and murmuring labourers in the vineyard. And as it was at Peter and his miserable motives that his Master levelled this parable, so it is at us and at our miserable motives, and at the miserable envies and jealousies that spring out of our miserable motives, that He levels this same parable in this house tonight.
And now in summing up our Lord adds this noble lesson to all His other noble lessons in this noble and ennobling scripture. Many are called, He adds, but few are chosen. Take them all together, He says; take those called at the first hour of the day, and those called at the third hour, and those called at the sixth hour, and those called at the ninth hour, and those called at the eleventh hour-when they are all counted up-many are called. But, with all that, the chosen men; the truly choice spirits even among the men who are called; the men who are sincere and single in their motives; the men who are full of humility about themselves, and about their work, and about their wages; the men who are so full of brotherly love that they have no evil eye left at their brother's good work or good wages, but who rather rejoice in all the good things that fall to their brother-labourer's lot-such men are not many even in the vineyard of heaven itself. There are many in that vineyard who say with Peter-What shall we have, therefore? But they are few who work at all hours of the day, and still receive their wages at night with pain and shame, and say to themselves that they are the most unprofitable of all their fellow-servants. They are the few, even among God's true servants, who continually look on all they receive and possess as so many proofs of His singular and unparalleled grace and goodness to themselves. They are the few who so think and so feel and so speak; but, then, they are the very finest and the very choicest of all His saints. They are the elect of His elect. Their true place on earth is in such a noble vineyard as this, and they are the true servants of such a noble Master as this. My brethren, at whatever hour you enter this vineyard, early or late, work all your days in this fine and noble spirit. So work for your Master, and so love your neighbour as yourself, that you may be found at last, not only among the many called, but among the few chosen.
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Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'The Labourer with the Evil Eye'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​wbc/​t/the-labourer-with-the-evil-eye.html. 1901.