As we all know, Jesus often taught in parables. Parables use earthly examples to teach spiritual lessons.
The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard
1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went.
“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.
“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’
9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Here, Jesus was not describing an earthy landowner and his vineyard, but the kingdom of heaven. The landowner is, of course, God who was seeking workers. In the early morning, the landowner hires men to go harvest grapes for the exorbitant sum of a dinarius a day. There is no way that the product of these workers’ labors could exceed the sum they were to be paid.
Today around the world there are people known as day laborers. They gather at a specified place to be hired for common labor or unskilled jobs for a single day. Here in the United States, the vast majority of these people work for minimum wage, amounting to about $50 for an eight-hour day. There are no benefits and there is absolutely no assurance of employment the next day. In the city of Chicago alone, there are an estimated 30,000 people who survive as day laborers. Today, a denarius would be worth in excess of $100. This would be a great deal for the laborer and not such a good deal for the landowner.
Undoubtedly, those who were hired early were elated at this opportunity for lucrative work. The rewards would be tremendous. I bet they were glad to have arisen early that day to get these jobs. They spent the day dreaming about the reception they would get when they got home that evening.
Throughout the day, the landowner went back to the area where people were gathered and hired more workers. “You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” Many went. They were not told what they would be paid, only that the reward would be “whatever is right.”
Near the end of the day, the landowner returned to find people still waiting for work. We are not told why they had not been there earlier. Perhaps they were off doing other work. Perhaps they had been sleeping off drunkenness. Some may have been there earlier and refused the opportunity to work because it seemed too hard. There are many, many possible reasons. Still, the landowner hired all that were willing to work and sent them to the vineyard. We don’t know if all went, but at least some did.
At the end of the day, the landowner instructed his foreman (could this be Gabriel) to call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last hired. Each received a denarius, from last hired to first. As the payments began, can’t just see those who were hired first just drooling? After all, they had worked all day, probably in the hot sun (trying circumstances) while the last hired had done little and likely more comfortably. Wringing their hands, they expected a larger sum for their labors. But each got a single dinarius.
“This isn’t fair!” the first hired grumbled. And by today’s standards of fairness it certainly wasn’t.
But the landowner replied: “I am not being unfair. Didn’t you agree to work for a dinarius? Take your pay and go.” The landowner goes on to say that these rewards are his to give and that he can dispense with them as he chooses. “Are you envious because I am generous?”
Of course the reward spoken of here is salvation through God’s grace. Whenever we accept the Son as our Lord and Savior we are granted this exorbitant gift. None of us are worthy, we have not earned it. Yet we all can receive it and the reward for all is the same.
So, if we can put off the labor until the final hour and get the same reward, why not?
First, there as that bumper sticker that says “Many of those who wait until the eleventh hour die at 10:30.” Bummer!
The other is that those who labor early get to enjoy an earthly life in a relationship with God. They bypass the heartache and missteps many of us (including myself) suffer when they wait.
God may not be fair, but He is merciful.
Another lesson here… are we envious of those who come late? Do we despise them?
Is that for us to judge?
Heaven and earth… the difference is in the employer.
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