Parable of Laborers

Matthew 20:1–16  (NIV)
1    “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard.
   He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
   “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing.
   He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’
   So they went. “He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing.

   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?’
   “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
   “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.’
   “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.”


This lengthy parable is found only in the gospel of Matthew.
In this parable, Jesus explains a principle of the kingdom of heaven.

Planting, maintaining and harvesting vineyards during the time in Israel was strenuous work.
It required hard physical labor in the heat of summer.
Often, additional laborers were required to get all the work done.

During the Biblical time, the workday would begin early, perhaps at sunrise, by 6 AM.
Usually laborers gathered in one spot to wait for landowners to come and offer work.

In the parable the owner of a vineyard hires laborers at various times throughout the day.
He went to the marketplace at the first hour of the morning (6:00 a.m.) to find workers for the day.
He offered the wage of one denarius, a silver coin.
One denarius was a Roman’s soldier’s pay for a day.
It was a generous offer for a day’s work.
The workers in the first group were more than happy to work for the generous wage.

As the day progressed more workers were hired.
He did not specify the wage to them.
He simply promised to pay “whatever is right.”

Altogether, four groups of workers were hired.
The last group was hired just one hour before the end of the day.

Those who are hired at six o'clock in the morning put in a full day’s work.
Those hired at five o'clock in the evening put in only one hour of work.

When the time came for the wages to be paid, he started paying from the last laborer to the first laborer.
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.
But the landowner paid equally to all of them, one denarius each.

Those who were hired earlier were angry at his.
But the landlord defended his action arguing that he has paid to all what he offered when he hired them.
It is his pleasure to pay the same wage even to the last.

Our Lord is faithful to reward us for our services as He has promised.
How He rewards others should be of no consequence to us, nor should it affect our devotion to Him.

Let us discuss 4 striking points from this story.

1.   The time and season of the story

The parable has no reference to the season or the time of the incidents in the story.
It simply states that the owner of the vineyard went to hire workers.

To know the time and season let us read another passage, a sentence from Jesus:

Matthew 9:37, 38 (NIV)
37  Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.
38  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

This is harvest time.

What is the harvest?

Harvest is the gathering of fruits in the vineyard of the Master
It is the harvest of the labor of the Master for many months

Spiritually, harvest is the restoration of the Kingdom of God
Jesus saw that everything was ripe for the restoration of the Kingdom

Jesus started his ministry on this earth by announcing the Kingdom
He came to restore the lost Kingdom of God.

Jesus started his ministry at Galilee, announcing the Kingdom

Matthew 4:17   From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Matthew 12:28    But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

Luke 17:21    nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

By the announcement made by Jesus that the Kingdom is at hand, the new King and His Kingdom came into being
We are to understand this on the historical and political background of the age.

It was a time of Roman invasion over Judea and all Jewish areas.
Romans ruled these provinces by appointing Governors or Provincial Kings.
Noble and rich men from the province who had influence over the area and people also could become Governors
They had to go to Rome to receive their Kingship
After receiving the authority from the Roman Empire, he comes back and announces his kingship and kingdom
He becomes the king or Governor of the province.

On this background, the audience of Jesus understood His message very well when He announced that the Kingdom of God is at hand.

Jesus was the King and the Kingdom

But He ruled over no geographical area
He never collected tax
He had no soldiers and no army
He never convicted anyone and sent none to prison
He taught, healed, liberated and resurrected people without any fee
Yet Jesus was a King

He ruled over the souls of people
He collected their praises and thanks giving
He fought, defeated and conquered the kingdom of satan
He freed people from the prison of the darkness

Yes, Jesus was a King
Yet His Kingdom was not of this world
He is the King of the spiritual Kingdom of God
The kingdom, the power, and the glory are His forever. Amen.

2.  Duration of work

There is no fixed duration of time for the work in His vineyard.

Some started working as early as 6 in the morning.
Some other joined by 9 AM
Another batch joined by 12 in the noon
Some more joined the vineyard by 3 PM
The last batch joined by 5 PM

By 6 PM the day’s work for all was over.

The first batch worked for 12 hours
The second batch for 9 hours
The third for 6 hours
The fourth for 3 hours
And the last batch for only 1 hour.
That means, the recruitment to the vineyard is a continuous process.
There are a lot of vacancies in the vineyard
The field is ripe for harvest
The master needs many, many laborers.

So none is early and none is late
None will find the doors closed with a “No vacancy” sign
The doors are always open for all those who seek a job in His Master’s vineyard.

Anybody, any day and any time can walk in and join His Master’s vineyard.

Late comers are also welcomed
In fact, none is late in the Vineyard; everybody is at the right time.

The invitation is sent out to all
Gathering the crowd is going on.
So join NOW.

2 Corinthians 6:2    For he says, In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.  (NIV)

The recruitment to the job is open 24 hours 7 days in a week
That means you have still another chance to join

3.  All are welcome

The landowner of the vineyard does not care about the qualifications and skills of laborers.
All of them may not be assigned for the same duty.
Their skills and talents may differ.

The wonderful thing in the vineyard of the Master is that there is job for everyone with any kind of skills and talents.

The ignorant and the scholar, the wise man and the less brilliant, the workaholic and the average – everybody has a part to do.

The landowner also does not care about the race, color, religion or nationality of the laborer.
If you are ready to work under the Master in His vineyard according to His principles, you are welcome.

The vineyard is ripe
There are a lot of vacancies in the vineyard of the Master

4.  Rewards

This is the interesting part of the job in the Vineyard
All who work till the setting sun are rewarded.

It seems, the only criterion for a reward is working till the end of the day.
None leaves the Master early
None grumbles, none complains about any harsh behavior from the Master.
Everybody preserved to the end.

The end is more important than the beginning.
Because the crown is offered at the finishing point.

All who are in the vineyard till the end of the day is rewarded.

But all rewards are offered according to the rules and regulations of the Kingdom of God.

The principles and the value system in the Kingdom of God are different from that of the world.
There the last is first and the first is last.
And all laborers, in spite of the duration of the work are paid equal.

The laborers are recruited by the Master
The terms of employment is fixed and executed by the Master.
It is His Grace to pay equal to the last and the first.

This is an encouraging thought.

We might have missed many chances to respond positively to the invitation of the Master to join His vineyard.
We may be despair of the reward for a late comer.
But the happy news is that, the Master pays all, the first and the last equal.

That is really a challenge.

It means, it is still not late.
It is the right time.

The right time in your life to respond to the Master’s call was 5 or 10 years ago.
And the last chance for a positive response from your part is NOW.

The doors are open
The hiring is open
Rush and join the Master as a laborer in His vineyard.

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