The Eleventh Hour
by Daniel Owino Ogweno
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Perseverance is what keeps you going when the going gets tough.
1 "For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard.
2 And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
3 And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
4 And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way.
5 Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise.
6 And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? (Underlined, author's emphasis).
7 They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive.
8 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.
9 And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny".
—Matthew 20:1-9 (KJV).
The many times I have read this portion of the Scripture, my understanding and interpretation was always confined around the idea that all the labourers received the same wage although some worked longer than others. Recently, as I sat in a bus reading the Bible, I saw something new.
The farmer started by going out early to get labourers. In each of the four times he went out, he found people standing in the market place. He would agree with them on the pay then send them to his vineyard to work. This trend changed when he went out at the fifth time—the eleventh hour. Look again at his encounter with the last group of people in v.6 (underlined). We see here that the farmer asked the these people a question that he didn't ask the earlier groups: "Why are you standing here all day, idle?" to which they answered: "Because nobody has hired us."
What makes this group special is the fact that they were still standing, waiting—and they had stood there the whole day. Isn't this the reason the farmer asked them a question he hadn't asked the others—namely, to emphasise that they had stood the whole day and they were still standing at the eleventh hour?
There are things that somebody can still wait for at the eleventh hour—but to be hired to go and work? Unless, it is a night shift, time was long gone to still expect to be hired for a day's work. These people ought to have given up and gone home.
This parable is not just about "the last being the first and the first being the last." It is not only about the Lord deciding what to pay His servants at the end of the day; it is also about a very unusual patience—eleventh hour patience; it is about hoping against hopelessness; it is catching a glimpse of eternity—waiting beyond 'time'. When one crosses the line of time and steps into the realms of eternity, one realises that those who had the advantage of time on earth wouldn't have advantage in eternity. Crossing the line of time equalises the gains for everybody.
Can it be also that the last group, being hired 'out of time,' were so moved by this gesture of grace that they worked intensively? Can it be that because of this speculated intensity, these people were able to do in one hour what the others did in many hours? If this is the case, then it resonates what we read in Luke 7:47:
If the above is the case, then the idea of the last being the first and the first being the last falls into perspective. The point here is that those who worked the whole day did not necessarily do much work than those who worked only for an hour. Again, if this is the case, it helps us understand that there is no contradiction between "the last shall be first, and the first last" (Matt. 20:16) and "... he shall reward every man according to his works" (Matt. 16:27).
In response to the abundant grace, those to whom so much has been forgiven are wont to exude a special intensity of love and depth of fellowship. (That was a digression. The reader must remember that this article was meant to emphasize the virtue of patience).
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