The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard

Reading Time: 6 Minutes

The parable of the Two Builders, who constructed their homes on sand or the rock, and the parable of the Good Samaritan are fairly easy to understand.

The two parables were addressed to Jesus’ followers. They both cover big themes of God’s activity among his people.

In the case of the Two Builders we are called to hear and obey what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount. With the parable of the Good Samaritan we are challenged to live our lives by the law of love.

The Parable of the Workers

The parable of the Workers in the Vineyard is more difficult to understand. Once we understand the message, we will also find it challenging to put into practice. Like the other two parables mentioned, this parable is addressed to Jesus’ followers.

Jesus told the parable like this: “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.

“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.

“When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 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.’

“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.’

“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?’

“So the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20.1-16).

How do we understand the parable?

Everyone of Jesus’ parables addressed a specific question. When we understand the issue at hand, the understanding of the parable becomes evident.

The setting for this parable is a lengthy back-and-forth discussion between Jesus and his disciples about such topics as status, envy, boasting, and jealousy. A quick review of the conversations with Jesus and his disciples will help us understand the parable.

Matthew 19.13-15 – Jesus’ disciples believe that he is too important to take time to welcome and bless children, but Jesus corrects their opinion.

Matthew 19.16-22 – A rich young man has his worldview turned upside down. To experience eternal life required him to deny himself the money he possessed and to follow Jesus by giving to the poor.

Matthew 20.27-30 – Peter asked about the reward that Jesus’ followers will receive. Jesus assures him of a great reward, but ended with the same words he gave in the parable: “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

Matthew 20.1-16 – The parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. Notice how this parable is surrounded by discussions that turn the customary values of the world’s system upside down.

Matthew 20.17-19 – Jesus will not be exalted, as expected by his close followers, when he comes to Jerusalem. Rather, he will be betrayed and crucified in the most humiliating and painful of deaths.

Matthew 20.20-28 – The mother of the sons of Zebedee asked Jesus to grant a position of honor to her sons. Jesus reversed the idea of powerful positions and said that “whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave.”

Matthew 20.29-34 – The healing of two blind men demonstrated the proper attitude to Jesus. Jesus asked them, “What do you want me to do for you?”

They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.”

Instead of power and position, followers of Jesus need their eyes opened so they can join Jesus in the attitudes and actions that he possessed.

Application of the Parable

Once we see the place of the parable in the ongoing discussion about envy, jealousy, boasting, and positions of power, we can see the one thing Jesus wanted his listeners to understand.

The Jesus way of life turns the world’s values upside down.

— Instead of being envious over another person’s good fortune, we rejoice in how God has blessed them.

— God ranks people differently than does our culture. The parable is framed by God’s declaration, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20.16 and 19.30). Don’t miss how the parable makes this point.

— The owner is good – unlike the rich young ruler – because he gives to the poor. The workers complain, because they are jealous.

— Justice requires positive action by seeking the good for all persons, especially the poor. True justice seeks mercy and ways to express love, as displayed by the owner of the vineyard.

— We can give up the quest to be first, knowing that God’s standards are different. We can join Jesus and serve the world in love, mercy, and generosity.

About This Blog

Klyne Snodgrass has devoted 12 years of study to produce the book, Stories With Intent. His book is recognized as the best book on the parables in print. I am indebted to Dr. Snodrass’ work that helps shape my articles.

If you have a prayer request, please email me at bsprad49@gmail.com or private message me on Facebook. I will pray for you and so will the prayer team at Maywood Baptist Church.

3 Comments

  1. There are multiple moments in each day when envy can derail our focus on Jesus and His love. Contemplating this parable also reminds me of the story of the prodigal’s brother. He wanted to be recognized and rewarded for his faithfulness and loyalty. The parable of the lost sheep….the obedient sheep are left on their own while the one who didn’t follow received the attention and care. And here, we have men who have worked all day for the landowner – and their pay is the same as one who sat around all day and only worked an hour.

    It makes me think of our eternity in Heaven. Men and women who have served God faithfully and lived righteously their entire lives will be seated next to a murdering rapist who met Jesus 5 minutes before their execution.

    I also think of how Jesus looks at our heart – our motive. Perhaps those who worked all day spent their time grumbling and complaining about the heat, or how many weeds were in the ground….did those who came the last hour work joyfully and gratefully – thankful to have an opportunity?

    As with so many of Jesus teachings and parables, His Truths found in the words are absolute. His thoughts on love, mercy and generosity never change. But we can look at multiple ways our hearts allow envy to corrupt our thinking.

    Jesus wants our faithfulness and our obedience out of grateful hearts. Not a “what’s in it for me” attitude. We are to do His work even if (especially if?) we don’t see a reward or favorable outcome. That’s hard! I don’t know about you, but I want a blessing now and then! I do not want to be inconsequential or marginalized.

    So, today, I ask You, Jesus, to remind me of Your sacrifice. To remind me to see as You see. To live for You, to follow Your teaching of live, mercy and generosity with no expectation of reward, apart from the promise of eternity with You. Amen

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is an addition to what Denise said about the rapist who repents.
    The good and righteous all their lives will be overjoyed that he repented and accepted Christ into his heart.
    God makes the final call and we can all rejoice in his perfection

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for your comments, Doug and Denise. You add great value to my blog articles with what you write. I am personally challenged by this parable and the surrounding verses. They have resonated with me since I began studying them.

    Like

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