Laboring in the Kingdom
Having heard Jesus' discussion with the rich young ruler, Peter may have been made to wonder about his reward. He commented that he and the rest of the twelve had left all to follow Christ and wondered what reward they would receive. Jesus' immediate response was to speak of the time of the new birth, or regeneration, when he would be on his throne. He said the twelve would also rule at that time over the twelve tribes, or spiritual Israel.
Of course, they reigned with Christ in the sense of reporting his will to men. They even now rule in the writings they left behind. Also, all men who sacrifice for Jesus will be rewarded. Those who have sacrificed family will gain a greater spiritual family. In fact, on one occasion when they told Jesus his mother and brothers were outside he responded in a surprising fashion. "And he stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, 'Here are My mother and My brothers!'" (Matthew 12:49). The Christian views life in terms of a temporary time on earth followed by eternity (1 Timothy 4:8).
The Invitation to Work in God's Vineyard
At the start of the day, the owner of a vineyard went out to find workers for his vineyard. Those he hired bargained with him for one small coin worth about twenty cents. At the third hour of the workday, or about 9 a.m., he went out and hired more laborers who trusted him to pay them a fair wage for a partial day's work. Then, he hired again at noon, 3 p.m. and even 5 p.m.! Each of these latter went trusting the owner to give them a fair wage.
It should be noted that the landowner went out repeatedly to seek laborers. The work of the kingdom is ongoing. Laborers are always needed to carry out the works of God. In fact, in this parable, the landowner was still hiring workers at the eleventh hour of a twelve hour work day.
Payment at the End of the Day
The law required payment to be made to each worker at the end of the day. "You shall not defraud your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of him who is hired shall not remain with you all night until morning," was the instruction of Moses' law as found in Leviticus 19:13. Deuteronomy 24:15 states it even more clearly, when it says, "Each day you shall give him his wages, and not let the sun go down on it, for he is poor and has set his heart on it; lest he cry out against you to the Lord, and it be sin to you."
When the day was over, the owner called all the workers together and lined them up with the last hired being first paid and the first hired last paid. Not one complaint was heard from those who went trusting the master to pay a fair price. Actually, each received a day's wage for less than a day's work. Only those who worked the whole day, having bargained for a specific sum, were upset. They felt they deserved more, especially than those hired at the eleventh hour!
Beware of the Evil Eye
Despite having worked longer than those hired later in the day, those who worked all day were paid according to their bargain. No one had any justification in complaining. After all, the lord's money was his to dispense as he pleased. Yet, some seemed to have been stirred to jealousy. As Lightfoot says, "They simply begrudged the owner's generosity. They murmured not because the lord had deprived them, but because he had been so merciful to the others."
The evil eye, or jealousy, is a sin of the heart. It can corrupt him from within (Mark 7:15‑23). "A man with an evil eye hastens after riches, and does not consider that poverty will come upon him" (Proverbs 28:22). Under the law of Moses, the seventh year was one for forgiving debts. Some might have been jealous of the money they would lose by loaning money to a poor man in the sixth or seventh years, knowing they would have to forgive whatever remained unpaid. God told them not to be jealous and promised to bless them for the good they did (Deuteronomy 15:7‑11).
The First Will Be Last and the Last First
This expression is used immediately before and at the end of the parable. Jesus seemed to be stressing the importance of the heart in working for God. There are two types of workers depicted in the parable. Some worked for the landowner to get what they deserved. The rest labored knowing they would not work a full day and trusting in the one who hired them to give them a fair wage. Notice, the men hired at the eleventh hour, when questioned as to why they had been standing idle all day, said, "Because no one hired us." Clearly, they had a willingness to work, but no opportunity. There is no encouragement here to continually delay accepting the Lord's invitation.
At a different time, Jesus asked his disciples if a master thanked his servants for doing what they were commanded. Then he said, "So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do'" (Luke 17:7‑10). Jews who followed Christ early on, the apostles and even some today need to keep this in mind. We are merely doing our duty in serving God. Not one of us can truthfully demand eternal life when we stand at the judgment bar. Instead, we need to exhibit a willingness to work and trust in the Lord to give us a reward far better than we deserve (Matthew 7:21; Romans 6:23).
1. Relate Peter's question and tell how it fit in with the parable Jesus told.
2. Name some things people sacrifice to be Christians. What do they gain?
3. What significance do you see in the landowner getting workers throughout the day?
4. Why were some satisfied with their pay? Why were others not satisfied?
--Gary Hampton, author, evangelist, and preacher training school
--Gary Hampton, author, evangelist, and preacher training school director