The Parable of the Ten Virgins
20:13–15. The landowner responds to the complaint by addressing the chief objector with a word that is “both friendly and reproachful,” friend (ἑται̂ρε, hetaire, cf. 22:12; 26:50). The owner of the vineyard then makes a threefold defense of his actions. First, there has been no injustice done them since he has kept his contractual agreement to pay them a denarius for their day’s work. Second, one has a right to use his own possessions to exhibit a gracious spirit to those to whom he will. And thirdly, their complaint is indicative of a spirit of jealousy (lit., “an evil eye,” cf. 6:20) that begrudges goodness and mercy extended toward others.
20:9–15. The wealthy throughout the Mediterranean world often bestowed significant gifts on the poor that were widely praised as beneficent, increasing the public status of the donors. Because status defined roles in ancient society, those who complained about receiving a day’s wage for a day’s work would be viewed as rude and ungrateful.
An “evil eye” (literally; cf. KJV) meant a “stingy eye” in common idiom (cf. Prov 28:22); suggesting that the laborers were stingy because he was a generous benefactor was a humiliating dismissal. Jewish people all affirmed that God, who alone rightfully owned all things, was beneficent whatever he gave; they acknowledged that only his attribute of mercy would enable even Israel to survive the day of judgment.
Jewish teachers employed a similar folk story about the day of judgment, but they used it to make the opposite point. Israel, who had worked hard, would receive high wages; the Gentiles, who had labored little, would receive little. In this context, however, Jesus’ point challenges those who have wealth and status in this world, Jewish or Gentile, and promises that in the world to come God will redress those who have been oppressed in this world.