The Laborers in the Vineyard


“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.’ “So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.’ And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.’ But he answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’ So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.” Matthew 20:1-16

The disciples of Jesus saw the rich young man go away sadly because he was unwilling to give up his riches and follow Jesus, and they had heard Jesus’ words about how hard it is for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. Peter then asked Jesus what he and the other disciples would receive since they had left all to follow Him. The last verses of Matthew, chapter 19, record Jesus’ answer. Here, Jesus describes the gracious reward which will be given to all who deny themselves and follow Him; but He also adds the words: “Many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

The parable of the laborers in the vineyard illustrates these words of Jesus and warns against the assumption that those who work harder, longer or give up more for Christ deserve a greater reward. In this parable, even those who were hired and began working in the vineyard at the eleventh hour received the same wages as those who had toiled for the full day. The householder graciously paid them for a full day’s work.

God also rewards those who deny themselves and labor in His kingdom, but God’s rewards are rewards of His grace and are not earned or deserved. As sinners, we do not even deserve to be in His kingdom. It is only by God’s grace in Jesus Christ – because Christ died for our sins and rose again – that we are forgiven and brought into God’s kingdom.

The rewards given for labor and sacrifice in God’s kingdom are also God’s gracious gifts for Christ’s sake. If we assume that we have earned a greater reward because of our hard work in the kingdom, we are in grave danger of losing, not only God’s gracious reward for our labor but also our place in God’s kingdom as well; for all of this is ours by grace alone!

If one becomes a Christian late in life, works only a short time in God’s kingdom and receives a great reward, we should rejoice and praise God for His grace rather than grumble because we did not receive more.

O Father, God of Love, hear Thou my supplication; O Savior, Son of God, grant me Thy full salvation; and Thou, O Holy Ghost, be Thou my faithful Guide that I may serve Thee here and there with Thee abide. Amen. (The Lutheran Hymnal, Hymn #417, Verse 7)

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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