“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard.” (Matthew 20:1 – 2)
Jesus always sought to make a point with his parables. The interesting and amusing thing is, the listener can determine what the point is/was. This is a good example of a parable offering up an array of points, meanings, and lessons. I have at times find different lessons in each reading. Today is what I found . . . today.
Early in the morning might mean five or 6 am – I am not sure. One person’s early morning is another persons too early to be out and about. No matter. These early to rise laborers probably started just as the sun was coming up at morning.
“When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.” (Verses 3 – 4)
Then we have the strict work day laborers (I would be numbered amongst these) who had morning rituals and tasks to attend to. When they came out looking for work, the sun was already in the sky doing its business. And they found work at a good pay.
“When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same.” (Verse 5)
Now these are the slug-a-beds who did not stir until the sun was high in the sky, or those who had other morning business to attend to, or maybe at a mid-day meal before going out to seek work. But this day their “more important tasks” were not an obstacle to employment.
You might also note, beloved reader, that there must have been lots of work to do if the landowner keep going out and found workers that he could employ. It must have been a very big vineyard.
“And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ “ (Verses 6 – 8)
It is true even in our time, that gainful employment is hard to find. And sometimes work comes at the last minute. That happened to me; I was still out of work when my unemployment benefits ended, and I had quite literally gotten down to my last dollar. I can imagine these workers have gone all over town trying to find work, up to late afternoon, hoping for at least a little bit of money to tide them over to the next day.
Now, what might this parable mean, so far. Hmmm . . . Is this about salvation? That even those who come to faith late in their lives still receive redemption and forgiveness? Or is this about the benefits that are found in the Christian life, like peace, harmony, compassion, caring – both shown to them and attributes they show to others? Or could it be the different designation of Jews and Gentiles; those who were first offered faith in/to the Divine and those who only in the past short time came to faith. Or maybe it means those who have worked hard at their faith and produced much versus those who simply believed and did not labor in the field of evangelism and ministry.
In the previous chapter the disciples were surprised that the rich man who had kept the Jewish faith meticulously was not eligible for eternal life because of his wealth and faithful life style. Peter asked (oh yes, beloved reader, Peter puts his foot into it again!) what about the disciples who have left all “worldly” things behind – will they be compensated for their losses in this life? Jesus assures them of their place in heaven, but cautions that they temper their expectations and not assume a superior attitude.
“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ “ (Verses 9 – 12)
Based on the remarks of the owner of the vineyard, I suspect the meaning is that some have labored long and hard for the faith, and have endured much – trials and tribulations, oppression and persecution, times of darkness and hard going – and expected that their faith would be more valued than one who had an easy Christian life and did not endure suffering because of their faith. It seems, beloved reader, a rather cautionary parable – when directed at Peter and the disciples possible “long-suffering attitude”
“But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ “ (Verses 13 – 15)
If we think of ourselves and others as unequal in our unworthiness – that is, that some sins are less punishable by the Divine – we are mistaken. All have sinned and fallen short. But the other side is just as clear; all will be given equal honor in the life to come. And those who think they qualify for a higher standing in heaven may be very surprised.
To put in more plainly – if you keep a good and faithful Christian life because you want to be numbered with the most saintly saints – then you have already made a misstep and misconception in your thinking. Yes, it is sort of backwards and upside down thinking. But then the Kingdom of Heaven is not organized and run according to human understanding.
“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Verse 16)
The goal of humanity, beloved reader, is to get there at all! Shalom & Selah!