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Matthew 20:1-16 New International Version (NIV)
The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard
20 “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[ a ] 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.”
New International Version (NIV)
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What is the meaning of the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard?
Question: "What is the meaning of the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard?"
This lengthy parable is found only in the gospel of Matthew. Jesus tells the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) in response to Peter’s question in Matthew 19:27: “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” Peter wanted to know what reward would be given to those who give up everything to follow Jesus. In response, Jesus explains this truth about the kingdom of heaven.
Planting, maintaining and harvesting vineyards in first-century Israel was strenuous work requiring hard physical labor in the heat of summer. Often, additional laborers were required to get all the work done. The owner of this particular vineyard went to the marketplace at the first hour of the morning (6:00 a.m.) to find workers for the day. His offered wage of one denarius, a Roman’s soldier’s pay for a day, was generous indeed. The workers in the first group were more than happy to work for the generous wage.
As the day progressed and more workers were hired, the specific wage was not mentioned, but the landowner promised to pay “whatever is right.” Apparently, the workers were sufficiently confident of the landowner’s character that they trusted him at his word. Altogether, four groups of workers were hired, the last group just one hour before the end of the day. When the time came for the wages to be paid, the first group of workers saw the last group being paid a denarius and were naturally thinking they would be paid more since they had worked the longest. Their anger against the landowner spilled forth when they saw they would all be paid the same, even though they got exactly what they had agreed upon when they were hired. The landowner was forced to defend his actions to the first group, even though he had dealt them in perfect fairness according to the contract.
The landowner, whose decision to pay all the workers the same was an act of mercy—not injustice—represents God, whose grace and mercy are shed abundantly upon those of His choosing. “For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy” (Romans 9:15-16). In the matter of salvation, His grace and mercy are given to those whose self-righteous works could never obtain it. We are all sinful and “fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), but His grace is sufficient to redeem all who believe. Whether God calls someone early or late in life to partake of His grace, the glory and praise for our salvation is His and His alone and in no way amounts to unfairness. Just as the landowner has a right to do what he wishes with his own money, so does God have the right to have mercy on whom He will have mercy.
The first group of workers in the vineyard resented receiving the same wage as the last group. Their attitude was similar to that of the Pharisees, who were incensed at Jesus’ teaching that others could inherit a heavenly kingdom they thought was reserved for them alone. They despised Jesus for offering the kingdom to poor, oppressed, weak sinners whom He made equal to them. In verse 15, the landowner asks, “Is your eye evil because I am good?” The “evil eye” was a Hebrew expression referring to jealousy and envy. God’s goodness and mercy produced in the self-righteous Pharisees the evil eye of envy. The rest of the workers received their wages without complaint or envy of others. In the same way, as Christians, we should rejoice when others come to the Savior, as we should rejoice in the service others render to Him. He is faithful to reward us for our service as He has promised, and how He rewards others should be of no consequence to us, nor should it affect our devotion to Him.
The message in verse 16, “the last will be first, and the first last,” is that no matter how long or how hard a believer works during his lifetime, the reward of eternal life will be the same given to all—an eternity of bliss in heaven in the presence of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. The thief on the cross (Luke 23:39-43), whose life of service was limited to a moment of repentance and confession of faith in Christ, received the same reward of eternal life as the apostle Paul. Of course, Scripture also teaches that there are different rewards in heaven for different services, but the ultimate reward of eternal life will be achieved by all equally.
Parables of Jesus by James Montgomery Boice
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Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard
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This article uncritically uses texts from within a religion or faith system without referring to secondary sources that critically analyze them. Please help improve this article by adding references to reliable secondary sources , with multiple points of view. (September 2017) ( Learn how and when to remove this template message )
Painting of the parable, by Jacob Willemszoon de Wet , mid-17th century
The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (also called the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard or the Parable of the Generous Employer) is a parable of Jesus which appears in the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament .
In Matthew Matt 20:1–16 , Jesus says that any “laborer” who accepts the invitation to the work in the vineyard (said by Jesus to represent the Kingdom of Heaven ), no matter how late in the day, will receive an equal reward with those who have been faithful the longest.
- 1 Text
- 2 Interpretation
- 3 In Islamic texts
- 4 See also
- 5 References
Text[ edit ]
For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a 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 evening 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, King James Version
Interpretation[ edit ]
The word translated “penny” in the King James Version of this parable is the denarius , a silver coin which was the usual day’s wage for a laborer.  The hours here are measured starting at about 6:00 AM, so that the eleventh hour is between about 4:00 and 5:00 PM.  The workers are poor men working as temporary farmhands during the harvest season,  and the employer realizes that they would all need a full day’s pay to feed their families.   The payment at evening follows Old Testament guidelines: 
Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant that is poor and needy, whether he be of thy brethren, or of thy strangers that are in thy land within thy gates: At his day thou shalt give him his hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it; for he is poor, and setteth his heart upon it: lest he cry against thee unto the LORD, and it be sin unto thee.— Deuteronomy 24:14–15, King James Version
In contrast to Rabbinic parables with a similar theme, this parable stresses God’s unmerited grace , rather than any sense of “earning” God’s favour.   In this way it resembles the Parable of the Prodigal Son . 
The parable has often been interpreted to mean that even those who are converted late in life earn equal rewards along with those converted early. An alternative interpretation identifies the early laborers as Jews , some of whom resent the late-comers ( Gentiles ) being welcomed as equals in God’s Kingdom.  However, Arland J. Hultgren writes:
Painting of the parable by Rembrandt , showing the workers being paid that evening (1637)
While interpreting and applying this parable, the question inevitably arises: Who are the eleventh-hour workers in our day? We might want to name them, such as deathbed converts or persons who are typically despised by those who are longtime veterans and more fervent in their religious commitment. But it is best not to narrow the field too quickly. At a deeper level, we are all the eleventh-hour workers; to change the metaphor, we are all honored guests of God in the kingdom. It is not really necessary to decide who the eleventh-hour workers are. The point of the parable—both at the level of Jesus and the level of Matthew’s Gospel—is that God saves by grace, not by our worthiness. That applies to all of us. 
Some commentators have used the parable to justify the principle of a ” living wage “,  though generally conceding that this is not the main point of the parable.  An example is John Ruskin , who quotes the parable in the title of his book Unto This Last . Ruskin does not discuss the religious meaning of the parable but rather its social and economic implications.
In Islamic texts[ edit ]
A somewhat different parable in Islamic faith  has been recorded in Islamic Hadith :
The Prophet said: “Your example and the example of the people of the two Scriptures is like the example of a man who employed some laborers and asked them, ‘Who will work for me from morning till midday for one silver coin?’ The Jews accepted and carried out the work. He then asked, Who will work for me from midday up to the afternoon prayer for one silver coin?’ The Christians accepted and fulfilled the work. He then said, ‘Who will work for me from the afternoon till sunset for two silver coins?’ You, Muslims have accepted the offer.
The Jews and the Christians got angry and said, ‘Why should we work more and get lesser wages?’ Allah said, ‘Have I withheld part of your right?’ They replied in the negative. He said, ‘It is My Blessing, I bestow upon whomever I wish.’ 
In another version, Muhammad is recorded to have said:
The Prophet said, “The example of Muslims, Jews and Christians is like the example of a man who employed laborers to work for him from morning till night for specific wages. They worked till midday and then said, ‘We do not need your money which you have fixed for us and let whatever we have done be annulled.’ The man said to them, ‘Don’t quit the work, but complete the rest of it and take your full wages.’ But they refused and went away. The man employed another batch after them and said to them, ‘Complete the rest of the day and yours will be the wages I had fixed for the first batch.’ So, they worked till the time of ‘Asr prayer. Then they said, “Let what we have done be annulled and keep the wages you have promised us for yourself.’ The man said to them, ‘Complete the rest of the work, as only a little of the day remains,’ but they refused. Thereafter he employed another batch to work for the rest of the day and they worked for the rest of the day till the sunset, and they received the wages of the two former batches. So, that was the example of those people and the example of this light which they have accepted willingly.” 
See also[ edit ]
- Life of Jesus in the New Testament
- Ministry of Jesus
- Parable of the Faithful Servant
References[ edit ]
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Workers in the Vineyard .|
- ^ a b c d e R. T. France , The Gospel of Matthew , Eerdmans, 2007,
ISBN 0-8028-2501-X , pp. 746–52.
- ^ a b c d Craig S. Keener , A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew , Eerdmans, 1999, ISBN 0-8028-3821-9 , pp. 481–84.
- ^ Both interpretations are discussed in Matthew Henry ‘s Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible (1706).
- ^ Arland J. Hultgren, The Parables of Jesus: A Commentary ,Eerdmans, 2002, ISBN 0-8028-6077-X , p. 43.
- ^ a b William Sloane Coffin , The collected sermons of William Sloane Coffin: the Riverside years, Volume 1 , Westminster John Knox Press, 2008, ISBN 0-664-23244-2 , p. 109.
- ^ Alfred Guillaume , Traditions of Islam: An Introduction to the Study of the Hadith Literature , Kessinger Publishing, 2003, ISBN 0-7661-5959-0 , p. 140.
- ^ Sahih al-Bukhari 3:468, 469; 1:533; 4:665
- ^ Sahih al-Bukhari 3:471; 6:539
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