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The Parable of 
The Workers in the Vineyard

Matt 20:1-16  "For the Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who was the master of a household, who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.  When he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. He went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace. To them he said, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went their way. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. About the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle. He said to them, ‘Why do you stand here all day idle?’ "They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ "He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and you will receive whatever is right.’ When evening had come, the lord of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning from the last to the first.’ "When those who were hired at about the eleventh hour came, they each received a denarius.  When the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise each received a denarius. When they received it, they murmured against the master of the household, saying, ‘These last have spent one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat!’ "But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Didn’t you agree with me for a denarius? Take that which is yours, and go your way. It is my desire to give to this last just as much as to you. Isn’t it lawful for me to do what I want to with what I own? 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 are chosen."  (web)

Discussion Questions

What is the labor and who are laborers equivalent to?
How is this different from Romans 4:4,5?
Is the landowner being unfair? Unjust?
What applications can you infer from this parable?
What expectations should we have concerning heavenly rewards?


Note that the first set of laborers had a contractual agreement to get paid at a certain rate. Some have compare them with the Jews who under the law of Moses had a contractual agreement with God. The other two sets of laborers were not promised a set wage. Their relationship with the master was one of trust. He promised to give them what was right, but while they worked they simply had to trust the master to give them what was right. Some have likened them to Christians who rely upon God's good character to do good by them and are not under the law or regulations of a contractual agreement.

It is not surprising that those arriving earlier and doing more work would envy those who did less, yet receive the same pay. They were just concerned for issues of law and justice, for so was their contractual relationship with the master. They were jealous of the grace give the latter workers. For not being under a "law", the master was free to practice graciousness with regards to them. So those who view their relationship with God as a legal one envy those who are under God's grace.

Those who view themselves as God's employees demand fairness. But those who view themselves as God's slaves don't grumble over the disparity with which He dispenses His grace, as the parable of the unworthy servants as teaches, "When you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’" Lk 17:10

Furthermore, in terms of doing what is right, the rewards that we are storing up in heaven are not proportional to the total amount of time we practiced the Christian life. If someone becomes a Christian early in life he may spend decades diligently practicing the Christian life, but in the end receive the same as one who became a Christian later in life and practiced it for a short time before his death.

Similarly, if two became Christians at the same time, but one lived shorter than the other, then the one who lived shorter, and therefore may have done less total labor, would nonetheless have come to enter the rest first and enjoyed the treasures before the one the other who would labor longer, and entered last.

The phrase, "Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?" reminds us that we are operating under God's grace. Indeed, being servants of God, we shouldn't require God to pay us at all, if we truly call Jesus Lord. But He rewards us as His own graciousness dictates.

One other aspect to this is to consider the precarious position of those who were looking for work all day and only got hired in the last hour. If anyone has been unemployed and spent many months looking for a job as your savings decrease, you know difficulties and pressures you can face. In this case it seemed such men were just victims of circumstance, and the landowner, being a gracious man wanted to help these victims of circumstance by paying them the same as others whose circumstances allowed them to go to work earlier. People who are successful in this life often congratulate themselves and despise the unfortunate, but often don't consider that much of their success was simply due to circumstances not under their control.

Consider the precarious position of those who become Christians late in life. Barring Calvinistic philosophy, if they had died earlier, they would have gone to hell. Given a choice, after having come to know Christ, I suspect most of these would have preferred to have been saved early in life, though they may have had to labor longer.


There once was a man who owned a vineyard
And needed some men to work very hard
He hired some men early in the day
And told them a denarius would be their pay
And every few hours he hired more men
Telling them the same again and again
Then in the evening he gave them their wage
But the ones who came early expressed outrage
"We worked harder than anyone here.
Aren't you being just a bit unfair."
"I'm not being unfair to you.
A denarius was what you agreed to."
Now take your pay and go.
Even though you thinks it's low.
For I'll be gracious to whom I want.
I'll be generous even though you aren't.
For many who are victims of circumstance.
And hiring you early was a matter of chance.
There are Christians who live quite a long time.
Laboring all day taking care of the vine.
But some get saved after they are old
Or live a short while after entering the fold
But nonetheless on judgement day
Both may end up receiving the same pay
For the point is not simply doing his biz
But rather revealing how gracious he is.

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources