Give Us Our Daily Bread

Peace in the Marketplace

A Bible study on Mathew 20:1-16

Story One - The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard

Mathew 20:1-16

Story Two - Give Us Our Daily Bread

At 5:00 am, still dark, a group of migrant workers started to gather in Ansan station square. No later than 5:30 am about 100 laborers were gathered. At 6:00 am, a mini van arrived and a man selected 10 people and disappeared with them. Ten minutes later, another van came and took 5 more and left. No more van came, but people did not move away until around 9:00 am.

Then, most of the people who might have their “daily bread” went back home. Five or six persons opened their suitcases and started to sell small items of souvenirs from their home countries. Three or four persons started begging. About ten people were “standing around” the square. Some were dazed by the sun. Some were sighing.      

In Korea, there are about one million migrant workers. Most of them work for so-called “3D” jobs which means “dirty, difficult (physically) and dangerous”. Many of them work as unskilled laborers in construction industry. However, due to the impact of the global economic crisis in 2009 and the collapse of the housing market, many of them have no daily job to work. For them, “give us our daily bread” is not only prayer in the liturgy, but a matter of life!

Introductory Questions

  • What does the parable of the laborers in the vineyard talk about?
  • How many times did the landowner hire the laborers?
  • Why were those laborers standing around at the eleventh hour at the marketplace?  Who did go back home and who did not and why?
  • How much is an average wage per day for a normal unskilled laborer in your own context which is equivalent to a denarius? What is the minimum wage per day in your country?
  • Please fill in the following template. 

    Time of Hiring

    Time of Finishing Work

    Hours of Working

    Expected Payment due to Working Hours

    Actual Payment by Landowner


    Early Morning (6:00)


    12 hours

    1 denarius

    (10 asses)

    1 denarius

    (10 asses)


    Third Hour (9:00)






    Sixth Hour (12:00)






    Ninth Hour (15:00)






    Eleventh Hour  (17:00)






    Why did the men who firstly hired complain? Can you accept this payment if you are the people who worked for twelve hours? Which is more difficult between working in the vineyard and waiting for employment in the daily labor market?


    In the Roman currency system, the denarius (plural: denarii) was a small silver coin first minted in 211 BC. It was the most common coin produced for circulation but was slowly debased until its replacement by the antoninianus. The word "denarius" is derived from the Latin dēnī "ten times", as its value was 10 asses. Its purchasing power in terms of bread has been estimated about 20 US dollars in the first century. Historians say that the daily wage for an unskilled laborer and common soldier was 1 denarius without tax in the Roman Empire. (By comparison, a laborer earning the minimum wage in the United States makes 58 US dollars for an 8-hour day, before taxes in 2005.)


    How do we understand the parables of Jesus? We often use parables when we try to explain something in a simple and easy way in moral and religious teachings. In the synoptic gospels, parables are the key methodology of Jesus’ teaching. Approximately one third of his teachings use parables, particularly when he met crowds who were mostly illiterates. Jesus' parables are simple stories which are easy to remember. However although his parables were simple and easy to understand, the meaning of the parables is deep and highlights the core values of the kingdom of God. Therefore, it demands a very careful reading and interpretation.

    The Parable of the Vineyard

    The aim of Jesus’ parable of the laborers in the vineyard is to teach about the kingdom of God (vs.1). The context of the parable is massive unemployment. Many laborers were standing around in the market place without doing anything (3, 6). When the owner of the vineyard asked them, "Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?" (6), they replied, "Because no one has hired us." (7) Some of the rich people and policy makers say that the poor are poor because they are lazy. However here we meet the crowd of laborers who have no job opportunity although they want to work!

    Then the next question is regarding fair wage. Even in the case of the laborers who can work 365 days in a year, one denarius per day was not enough to reach the minimum wage of today. It was less than half of it and the laborers would have to work almost 24 hours per day to earn the minimum wage. Moreover, for those people who have daily jobs only six months in a year, is one denarius enough as an average wage for laborers?

    It seems the first were enjoying their everlasting privileges. The last had no basic means, such as education to climb the socio-economic ladders. In this context, Jesus taught this parable on what means just economy in the kingdom of God.

    Firstly, the just economy in God’s kingdom is regarding equal opportunity. In the parable, the owner hired the workers five times. In the OT, the vineyard normally means the people of God and the owner means God. The economy of God’s kingdom provides equal work opportunities for everybody so that they can sustain their life and realize their God-given gifts.       

    Secondly, there was an equal distribution based on needs. Whether they worked for twelve hours or just one hour, all received equally a denarius which can support them to buy daily bread for their family. Of course, it was not fair! There were no criteria for this payment. It was based neither on quantity nor quality of labor. However, if we consider that a denarius was a minimum wage for survival, it is understandable.

    Thirdly, “lead us not into temptation”. For those people who worked for twelve hours, it was an unreasonable calculation.(12) It was a totally unacceptable, unfair payment. In the midst of the recent global financial crisis, there was the scandal of millions of dollars of bonus paid to the financial workers in Wall Street or London City. The CEO of UBS justified this greed as being inevitable in order to employ good quality financial managers. Those people who created the crisis are taking different masks of the problem-solvers. Therefore, in the name of economic law, the first will always be the first and the last will be forever the last.

    We are living in a competitive society where everything is measured by numbers. Even human beings are listed by who are the first and who are the last, who is the biggest and who is the least. Possessing more than others and accumulating everlasting wealth is becoming the only security measure of life in the God-less market. There are temptations for excessive wealth and greed in every corner of the marketplace. In the logic of the market, there is no space for God’s grace for human suffering. Market leads us into the temptation of worshipping Mammon. 

    Concluding questions

    1. Is there peace in the current global and local marketplaces? If not, why is there no peace? If yes, is it pax Romana or pax Christi?
    2. Is there justice in the marketplace? If yes, is justice enough to bring peace to the market?
    3. Is Jesus really talking about peace in the marketplace? What then does the last verse of the parable mean?

    Economy of God’s Kingdom

    Read together Isaiah 55:1. "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” Market is the place where access is denied to those who have no money. Everything is priced in the market, even human beings. In this context however let us remind ourselves that a totally different market does exist in the kingdom of God where, although we have no money, we still may have life in fullness. If the text in Isaiah 55 is the vision of life-giving economy, the text of Mathew 20 is a case study how to actualize it: The economy of the first who takes care of the last as the first – the economy of the first and the last sitting and feasting together in the house of the Father is possible! (Luke 15:11-32)


    Bible study by Jooseop Keum.