Labourers in the Vineyard

(Matthew 20:1-16)

The labourers in the vineyard parable is interesting as it divides our thoughts between matters of the flesh and the spirit. When we look at it through eyes of flesh it is not fair. But when we look at it through God’s eyes and consider the promise of God it is perfectly fair and reasonable and perhaps even adds an “unknown” blessing.

If we look at the parable of the labourers in the vineyard for a moment is can be summarised this way. The vineyard owner needs labourers to go out into the vineyard to work. He goes to the marketplace and hires a bunch of people offering them a denarius for the day’s work, which they accept. But there are not enough labourers so he goes back to the marketplace a few hours later and hires more, again offering to pay them what is right. This repeats at around lunchtime, mid-afternoon and then finally when there is only an hour of the working day left he hires a few more people to labour in his vineyard.

The analogy here is that God is the vineyard owner, the vineyard is the world in which we live and the work these labourers are doing is the work of the Lord in spreading the gospel.

At the end of the day the householder calls in the labourers to give them their pay. Starting with the group whom he hired last he pays them a denarius each. When the earliest group sees this they think they might receive more since they toiled all day through the heat and took on a greater burden of work. But when it is their turn to be paid they too receive a denarius each.

At this point we see the labourers looking at this through the eyes of the flesh. The early employees grumbled amongst themselves and complained that they had not got more than the rest given the amount of work they did. Although it does not say it, I am sure too that the last group employed could not believe their fortune for they received a full days pay but only worked for an hour. One group considered the vineyard owner to be miserly and unfair, but the other thought him exceptionally generous. This is the way people of the world would naturally think in such a situation.

But when we look at this through the eyes of the spirit we see that both perceptions are wrong. The vineyard owner agreed with the labourers to pay them a denarius for their work. He did not specify a time period that they should work. He just said they should come and work in his vineyard and he would pay them a denarius. In essence he created a contract with the workers and all he was doing was honouring that contract. They all had agreed to the contract and so had no right to grumble.

But there is still more to this parable. What is it that the labourers are grumbling about? Money and inequity. One group were grumbling that God had made all of them equal by giving the same reward to each. But that is the truth of the New Covenant. God shows no partiality in anything, including how much we may have worked in his kingdom or not. The person who attends church, sits in the back pews and just listens and applies the words of Jesus to their life will receive the same reward as the preacher, evangelist, and prophet or miracle worker. The lowliest person in God’s kingdom receives the same reward as the Apostle Paul. There is no partiality. Just because a person has not done a great ministry does not mean they will receive only a little bit of life in God’s kingdom. We all have the same reward on offer and all of us agree with God that we will accept the same reward regardless of the work we might be called to do in his vineyard.

We must understand that the reward we receive in truth is not like the wage given to the labourers in the vineyard. They earned a wage, but we receive life as a gift. And a gift is given according to the whim of the giver, not the receiver. Jesus showed this in the parable too saying, “I choose to give to this last as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” (Verses 14-15) What we are given is a gift by the grace of God so we must not grumble.

Besides, I read elsewhere another interesting twist on this too. The labourers who began early actually had a greater blessing than those who entered at the end. The early starters actually had the care and protection of the master of the vineyard throughout the day with the knowledge they would be rewarded at day’s end. The late starters for most of the day were wandering aimlessly not knowing if they would have work and get payment to buy food or provisions or whatever. So actually the first group were much more blessed for they had an assurance of something better to come that the late starters did not have for most of the day.

We must apply this thinking to ourselves and learn to look at things through the eyes of the spirit rather than the eyes of flesh. Then we will see clearly the glory and promises of God.

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