The Workers in the Vineyard

vineyard_13420acMatthew 20:1–16 (NLT)
  “For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay the normal daily wage* and sent them out to work.
3 “At nine o’clock in the morning he was passing through the marketplace and saw some people standing around doing nothing. 4 So he hired them, telling them he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day. 5 So they went to work in the vineyard. At noon and again at three o’clock he did the same thing.
6 “At five o’clock that afternoon he was in town again and saw some more people standing around. He asked them, ‘Why haven’t you been working today?’
7 “They replied, ‘Because no one hired us.’
“The landowner told them, ‘Then go out and join the others in my vineyard.’
8 “That evening he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first. 9 When those hired at five o’clock were paid, each received a full day’s wage. 10 When those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage. 11 When they received their pay, they protested to the owner, 12 ‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’
13 “He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? 14 Take your money and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. 15 Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?’
16 “So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.”
Ch. 19 concludes with a discussion between Jesus and the disciples about the rewards of the Kingdom.  The parable of the workers in the vineyard illustrates Jesus’ point made in 19:30 “But many who are the greatest now will be the least important then, and those who seem last now will be the greatest then.”
“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard.”  The parable reflects the practice of hiring unemployed and tenant farmers for the grape harvest.  These free men would gather in the marketplace before sunrise, hoping that they would be hired by the large landowners for the harvest.  Those who were hired early in the day agreed to the usual wage of a denarius.  If they were not hired, they would often travel to the next village to see if others there were hiring.  As a result, the landowner could expect to find additional laborers in the marketplace at various hours.  In this case, the landowner must have a particularly large harvest, as he continues to seek workers even into the very late hours of the day.
At the end of the day, the landowner gathered all the workers to pay them beginning with those who were hired last.  He pays each the expected wage for a day laborer.  In this case, the landowner was particularly generous to those who were hired last.  However, he pays those who were hired first the same wages as those who were hired last.  This seems unjust to those who had worked all day.  The problem is that those hired first were envious.  They expected because of the landowner’s generosity that they would be paid more than a day’s wages.
The parable speaks about the generosity of God.  God’s grace is freely given to all who will accept it.  In the context of Jesus’ ministry, the parable points to the response of the Pharisees who objected to Jesus invitation to sinners and tax collectors to enter the Kingdom.  The vineyard was a typical symbol for the nation of Israel.  The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law (scribes) considered themselves to be the workers in the vineyard.    They expected that they would receive a larger reward in heaven, because of their birth and position.  In general, the Jews expected a greater reward in heaven than those Gentiles (not Jews) who were late comers to the great banquet of God.  Jews in the first century prayed a prayer thanking God that they were not born a Gentile.  They thought that their birth gave them greater rights than any Gentile.  Even Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, salvation is from the Jews.  God first revealed himself to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the patriarchs of the Jews. Jesus teaches that the rewards of the Kingdom of God are offered and open to all.  To whoever will accept Jesus’ invitation to come.  In the church, it matters not whether you have been a Christian all your life, since birth and were raised in the church, or whether you labored as a pastor or ministered for 60 years or more, or whether you are a person who comes to the Lord at the end of your life, the rewards of the Kingdom of God are offered freely to all without regard to the work they have done.
Peter and the 12 expected a greater reward because of their great sacrifice and commitment (19:27).  The parable tells us that God does not judge on the basis of what is earned (wages), but on the basis of grace.  The parable of the workers in the vineyard gives us another opportunity to reflect on God’s amazing grace.  In the Kingdom of God, the values of the kingdom are upside down from the values of this world.  In the Kingdom of God, “the last will be first, and the first will be last.
Lord, it matters not whether we come to the labor of the field early or late.  The important thing is that we answer Jesus’ call:  “Come!”  When we answer the call to come and work in the fields of Jesus, then we all receive the blessings of the Kingdom of God.  Help us to redeem the time we have on this earth, by laboring honestly and with all our strength for the Kingdom of God.  Lead people in our area of influence:  our friends, relatives, associates and neighbors, to hear and answer your call.  Give us boldness to share the Good News about Jesus Christ with them, that all may come to know you as Lord and Savior.  Amen.

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