Jesus's Words

The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard

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Matthew 20:1-16

Synopsis of Parables:

The master of the house hires workers at dawn, noon, and midday. At the end of the day, he pays them all one denarius. The dawn workers complained saying they worked harder and longer, but the master said, "Am I not allowed to do what I want with what is mine?"

Parable Given in Response to:

After sending a rich man away because he would not give up his possessions to inherit eternal life, Jesus spoke of the things that would be required to follow him.(Matthew 19:23-30.) Jesus also said, But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first, Matthew 19:30 A theme of the parable.

Symbolism Chart

Symbol Meaning Verse Found
↓Householder God Matthew 20:1
↓Vineyard Earth Matthew 20:2
↓First Labourers Jews Matthew 20:1
↓Following Labourers Believers Matthew 20:3, 5, 6
↓Different Hours Different Ages of the Earth Matthew 20:1, 3, 5, 6
↓Steward Jesus Matthew 20:8
↓Penny Paradise Matthew 20:2

The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard

As presented in the King James Version of Matthew 20:1-16.

Matthew 20:1 For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard.
2 And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
3 And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
4 And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way.
5 Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise.
6 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?
7 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.
8 So when even 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.
9 And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny.
10 But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny.
11 And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house,
12 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.
13 But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?
14 Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee.
15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?
16 So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.

Explanation of the Interpretation of Symbols

The Householder is God Back to Top ↑

The householder is God.

God dealt with the Jews who haggled with him extensively.

However, with the gentiles he has taken a much more subdued approach. The gentiles are not bound by a culture of following spiritual laws or prophets of God. Instead, they have to seek Jesus and beg him. This is how most gentiles approached Jesus. The Centurion: There came unto him a centurion, beseeching him;Matthew 8:5 the Canaanite woman: A woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him;Matthew 15:22 cf. Luke 7:3 the Syrophoenician woman: For a certain woman... came and fell at his feet...and she besought him;Mark 7:26 A criminal crucified with Jesus defended him with an earthly plea and then asked for Jesus.(Luke 23:39-43.)

The Vineyard is Earth Back to Top ↑

Yet another parable where earth is incorporated as the vineyard, field, or ground. There is not too much to say here, but this is a common feature. Almost everything concerning humans takes place on earth, so this is what we can expect.

The First Labourers are the Jews Back to Top ↑

For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an 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. Matthew 20:1, 2 The householder negotiated with these people. As did God. God gave the Jews a huge list of laws and regulations, concluding Leviticus with, These are the commandments, which the LORD commanded Moses for the children of Israel in mount Sinai. Leviticus 27:34 If the Jews followed these, they were blssed.(Deuteronomy 28:1-14.) If they did not, they were cursed.(Deuteronomy 28:15-68.)

This is the same situation that the householder encountered. The first group agreed beforehand for the reward. The following groups did not. They simply got up, worked, and were rewarded.

The Following Labourers are the Believers Back to Top ↑

And so after taking in the first group early in the morning, the householder goes out again and sees people standing idle.(Matthew 20:3.) This happens multiple times. At one point, the householder asks why some have not been working all day. They simply reply, Because no man hath hired us. Matthew 20:7

Did the householder need these labourers at this point? They will only work for an hour, and still yet be paid a denarius (typically a payment for a whole day's work). Surely in terms of economics, the householder will lose money here. Thankfully, God need not concern for finance. And his steward, Jesus, is making sure there will be room for us all: In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. John 14:2 And he prepares places for the first person and for the last person.

The householder did not negotiate with any of these people. He merely said, Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. Matthew 20:4 cf. verse 7 These people did not argue or negotiate. They went and followed the will of the householder, just like we do today.

The Different Hours are the Different Ages of the Earth Back to Top ↑

In the first portion of the earth, God dealt mostly with Jews. Now he deals with many peoples of the earth, as befitting him when he said, And I will sow her unto me in the earth; and I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy; and I will say to them which were not my people, Thou art my people; and they shall say, Thou art my God.Hosea 2:23

That the last come first and the first come last has been a trend within Judaism. Even though the firstborn belonged to God,(Exodus 13:2.) he would occasionally call the lastborn to himself.(For instance: Jacob, Genesis 31:3 and Joseph, Genesis 39:2.) Then came Jesus, who constantly preached Many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first. Matthew 19:30 cf Matthew 20:8, 16; Mark 10:31; Luke 13:20. And it seems Jesus means this in every way, the last will be first. And if anyone wants to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all. Mark 9:35

The Steward is Jesus Back to Top ↑

Rather simple.

Jesus did not negotiate with the Jews regarding their pay, just as the steward did not do any negotiating at all.

Jesus, however, is in charge of who may and may not see the Father. Jesus is also in charge of the judgement,(John 5:22, 27.) which in this case is wholly beneficial. He gives them what is decreed by the Father, either resurrection unto life, or resurrection unto damnation.(John 5:29.)

The Penny is Paradise Back to Top ↑

Perhaps more accurately, the resurrection unto life.

The Jews negotiated with God and ended up with a comprehensive list of blessings, and an even larger list of curses.(See Deuteronomy 28 for a summary of these.)

Contrast this with believers in Jesus today. Jesus appeared, and we flocked to him. None of us negotiated our place with him. It is as the householder said, Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. Matthew 20:4, 7 The reward, however, is the same. It is life eternal.(John 3:16; 6:47; 10:28.)

In Conclusion Back to Top ↑

This is a nice parable. It matters not when you started listening to and following Jesus, only that you do the will of the Father. And you need not worry, your reward will not be any less than those who lived and died a long time ago. God will reward your efforts no less because of your age.

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