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. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way. Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. 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? 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. 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. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day. But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.(Matthew 20:1-16)
In this variation of the Vineyard parable, Jesus looks at the question of privilege and reward. Who is allowed to work in the Vineyard and what is the basis for final reward?
The LORD of the Vineyard sets out to hire laborers to work in his Vineyard. Early in the morning he set out to hire them for a fair wage, the standard payment of a laborer for a day’s work.
The Law of Moses anticipated in Israel four economic classes of laborers, 1) land owners and their families, 2) servants, some of whom were bonded and made part of the family, 3) hired freemen who contracted themselves out, and lived on a wage, and finally foreigners who had made their home among the Israelites.
These laborers were to be paid at the end of the day, which lasted from sunup to sundown.
Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns. Pay him his wages each day before sunset, because he is poor and counting on it. Otherwise he may cry to the Lord against you, and you will be guilty of sin.(Deuteronomy 24:14-15)
The master went to the gathering place in the market, after three hours to hire more laborers, and again he went there the sixth and the ninth hour. Finally he went out at the eleventh hour, to hire the few disappointed workers who had been passed over all day long.They would be employed for one hour, but it was better than nothing.
Finally as the sun descended the laborers lined up for their pay, the last employed in the front of the line. When they received a full days wage for one hour’s work, they were stunned! So also were the others who had worked three, six , nine and even 12 hours.”Surely we will be overpaid as well, since he overpaid those who only worked one hour.”.
But to each, the master gave a full days wage, to the ones who worked three, six, and nine hours and finally to the ones who worked twelve long, hot hours.
The longer working employees murmured at the Master,”You made these equal to us, but we have worked all day!”.
But the LORD of the Vineyard retorted, “I have done thee no wrong, take what you have rightly earned, didn’t we agree as much?”
“Can I not do with my own whatever I want?”
“IS Your eye evil, because I am good?”
This is a parable that long vexed me, (everything in the Bible that utterly strikes you as wrong, is exposing an area of God’s dealing with you). He would change our paradigm (way of looking at everything) through these difficult passages, jarring us out of our long deeply held misconceptions.
I couldn’t see the fairness in this, it offended me and I sympathized with the 12 hour crew.
But then one day it occurred to me,“Why would the Master go out to the marketplace to hire some unfortunates, one hour before closing?”
He certainly didn’t hire them at the last hour on the basis of His needing them. He hired them because they needed Him! They needed work, any work, and the Master, being good, and flowing in mercy and grace went back to the marketplace to pick up a few more desperately needy men to employ.
The emphasis of this telling of the Vineyard tale, is the grace of God. God did not ‘need’ us, we need Him, and he sought us out and saved us out of sheer mercy and lovingkindness.
The basis of reward is grace also. “If I want to give them this wage, what is that to you?”. Why did God chose a sinner like me, and forgive me of the vast multitude of my trespasses at great cost? Is there any reason other than the Grace of God?
We don’t deserve our rewards, they are the gift of God, given in love and tender mercy…we are amazed, stunned and shocked by the Grace he has given us.
If anyone is scandalized by this mercy, it is an indication of a heart estranged from God. “Is your eye Evil, because I am good?”
The moral of this story is that No one gets any less than what he deserves, for God is a just and righteous God. But some of us, get more than what we deserve because God has made a way, through the substitution of His Son, to justify ungodly sinners, forgive them, employ them and grant them privileges that they could never earn!
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.(Ephesians 2:8-10)