Making the Gentiles Jealous

In Romans 11:11-14, Paul talks about how the salvation of the Gentiles will provoke the Jews to jealousy, so that some of them will be saved. He is actually quoting Moses, from Deuteronomy 32:21. The Jews consider the Bible to be their book and they become jealous when they meet Gentiles who understand it better. They feel as if their Bible has been stolen from them. So they ask questions about Yeshua, because they want to have their Bible back, and end up being saved.

However, there are also situations in which the Gentiles are being provoked to jealousy. They are described in the parables of Yeshua, about the workers in the vineyard and the prodigal son.

Workers in the Vineyard

In Matthew 20:1-16 there is the parable of the vineyard, where people are hired to work for varying lengths of time. Some start in the morning and work all day. Others start at noon, others at 3pm, and finally a group that starts only an hour before sunset. At the end of the day, each was paid a fixed amount of money because that's what they agreed to when they started. The ones who started early expected to be paid more than those who started late, and grumbled when they saw that everyone was paid the same, but the owner of the vineyard rebuked them, saying he had given them what they agreed, and he had a right to be generous to the others if he wanted to.

The usual interpretation of this parable is that it refers to people who become believers in Yeshua at varying stages in their lives. One person is saved at the age of ten and serves God faithfully for all his life. Another is saved at the age of ninety and serves God faithfully for just his last few remaining years. They both get the same reward in Heaven because they both did what God wanted them to do. But there is a curious phrase in this parable that appears twice and doesn't quite fit the interpretation. It says:

But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first. (Matt. 19:30).

So the last shall be first, and the first last... (Matt. 20:16).

The meaning of this is given within the parable:

So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. (Matt. 20:8).

They were paid in the order of last to first because the owner of the vineyard wanted to see the reaction of those who had worked all day. If the ones who started work first were paid first, they would have gone on their way and would never have known how much the others were paid. So the ones who came last were paid first while the ones who had worked all day were still waiting in the queue to get paid and they saw what was going on. Their reaction was unjustified but predictable jealousy.

The reason why this doesn't fit the commonly accepted interpretation is because we die and go to heaven in seemingly random order when it's time for us to go and nobody is kept waiting to see what happens to anyone else. A more earthly interpretation fits the circumstances better as follows.

Since the end of the first century, the Church has been predominantly Gentile. The Gentiles have laboured in the heat of the day for the last 1900 years and are looking forward to the return of Messiah so that they can receive their reward. But while they are waiting, along comes the "Jewish Roots" movement and steals the show. The Jewish believers, because of their history and culture, are able to explain parts of the Bible that the Gentiles never understood. The Gentiles have studied the Bible for centuries and thought they knew it, but the Jews, who have only been around for a short time, seem to know as much as the Gentiles. So the Gentiles have become jealous, saying "Who do you think you are? Where have you been for the last 1900 years, and what makes you think you can teach us?". They are just like the workers in the vineyard, who can't accept that those who came last still get paid the same.

The Prodigal Son

The story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) is commonly thought to describe a sinner who goes astray and then repents of his sin and turns back to God. It is a very popular story, used by evangelists to encourage people to repent.

When the prodigal son returns, his father kills the fatted calf and there is a big celebration. The older brother, who never left home, became jealous saying "You have never even given me a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends". The father explained that he wasn't practising favouritism, he just wanted to celebrate because his lost son had come back.

When this story is told, the emphasis is usually on the prodigal son who returns expecting to be made into a hired servant, and the joy of the father who welcomes him back and accepts him into the household. The elder brother is presented as a mere accessory to the story who asks a question and gives the father a reason to explain why he is celebrating.

However, if we look more closely at this story, and particluarly the older brother, we see that it bears a distinct resemblance to the history of the Jews and Gentiles and their current relationship. The Jews have gone astray for the last 1900 years, unwilling to believe in Yeshua the Messiah. During that time they have been scattered and made to feed pigs. That's right, they have fed pigs, just like in the story, together with many other jobs that a Jew would not normally do. That's because whenever they went to a new place, before they had the resources to set up their own businesses, they had to work for Gentile employers who had no regard for the customs of the Jews. The suffering of the Jews, during their dispersion, has been very great and there have been many tragedies including the Spanish Inquisition and the Nazi Holocaust. Now they are returning to Israel, and at the same time there are larger numbers of Jews believing in Yeshua than ever before.

Heaven is rejoicing over the Jews who have believed, and for the most part the Church is rejoicing, but some sections of the Church, particularly within the Replacement Theology camp, are just like the older brother. They are full of jealousy about all the fuss that is being made over the brother who has returned. Instead of joining the celebration, they complain bitterly about "Jewish Roots", making it out to be some kind of heresy.

Regarding the two brothers, it could be said that Israel is the older brother because they have a much longer history. However, when they return to accept Yeshua, they come back as the younger brother because their spiritual development has been frozen for such a long time.