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. And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way. Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and said unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He said unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard said unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, 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. But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Mat 20:1-14 KJV
The occasion of this parable is given in Matthew 19:27-30. It was given to answer Peter’s question. “We have forsaken all and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?” Mt. 19:27
Peter wanted to know how much and what kind of wages anyone would get if he worked for God as the disciples were doing. Jesus then gave this story of a particular householder hiring laborers to work in his vineyard. He went out at dawn to hire laborers. The custom was for laborers to collect at certain places ready for work in the surrounding fields if hired. All hours of the day they would stand around such places, waiting to be hired.
In this particular story the householder hired all the first lot for one penny a day, which was the Roman silver denarius that was the basis of the common transactions of the day. It was a good price for a day’s work and more than the daily pay of a Roman soldier. Later he went out at the third hour (9:00 AM), the sixth, the ninth, and the eleventh hours (12:00, 3:00, and 5:00 PM) and finding others idle, agreed to give them what was right. This particular man was good-hearted and gave all a penny, regardless of how long they had worked. The first ones complained because they had worked longer. The goodman of the house frankly told them that he had done no wrong, but had done as he had agreed.
Jesus rebuked Peter for having the wrong motive in service and taught him by this story that God was just and good and would fully reward all service of those who retain the right spirit of humility and have the true motive of service. God wants willing service from all, without thought of wages or rewards. Rom. 14:10-12; 1 Cor. 3:11-15; 9:16-27; 2 Cor. 5:10-12
But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.
It illustrates the necessity of self-humbling and of being content with rewards to come. Mt. 19:29-30; 20:16 It is a change of place between the first and the last, yet not a universal change. The first ones were first in magnitude and extent of their work, but became last because of the spirit in which it was performed. Spirit and motive only, not calling and nationality, have to do with this change. It is not as is commonly taught that the first (the Jews) shall be last and that the last (the Gentiles) shall be first, but “everyone that exalt himself shall be abased; and he that humble himself shall be exalted”. Mt. 18:3-4; 23:12; Lk. 14:11; 18:14
Many are called to God’s work, but few retain that temper of spirit, that humility and entire submission to God, which will, in the end, cause them to be rewarded. Often those who are first in time, opportunity, education, and length of preparation, are last in usefulness and success. Time is not the only element in service. The short life and work of Jesus is an outstanding example of this truth. These sayings apply to individual Jews and Gentiles, but never as a whole to either class.
I choose to humble myself and to have no wrong motives in service; God shall be glorified in all that I do!