“About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.
“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
“‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.
“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’
“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius.
So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
“But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
- Matthew 20:1-16 (NIV)
It turns green.
All of these are excellent answers. The problem is that they’re excellent answers… when we don’t know what the questions are. So it is with this passage from Matthew 20.
Yet again proving that context is everything – to find the questions that this parable is answering, we need to look in the previous chapter. (Link: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+19%3A16-30&version=NIV)
The really short summary is that a rich young man after asking what he needed to do to be saved, went away unhappy after told to sell his possessions and give to the poor, and then follow Jesus.
There are probably many questions and things which can be brought of this parable but I’m only going to look at three questions.
Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”
There’s a question. Jesus addresses that question directly previously but in The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard he cuts even deeper into the question. Jesus speaks of our attitude.
At the end of the day when the workers receive their pay, they all received what they’d agreed to – a denarius – the going rate for a day’s pay.
Some of the workers who’d been there the whole day, begin to grumble, even though they’d received exactly what they’d agreed to be paid. The vineyard owner quite rightly points this out and also points out that he has every right to be generous with his money.
If we are the workers in the vineyard, will we also grumble about the owner’s generosity? What is the opposite of generosity – stinginess.
If this parable is about entering the kingdom of heaven, then this isn’t really about rewards that we might receive but about our salvation.
What right do we have to complain about who is saved?
Think about how this applies to the people in our own life. What about the people who rub us the wrong way? What about those people of whom it seems that it requires extra grace on our part to deal with them? What about those people who we flat out don’t like? What about the absolute vilest offenders that we can think of who suddenly find Christ? What is our attitude towards them?
It isn't our place to decide who gets to be saved. In fact, we should be reminded that if we were paid according to what we actually deserve, the wages of sin is death, then by rights, none of us even deserve to be paid even a single red cent.
Salvation isn't a matter of seniority, experience, status, power, or wealth (as if any of those things could impressive God anyway), Salvation depends on and is only a result of what Jesus has done. Salvation depends on and only exists because of Jesus’ saving work of dying on the cross for the cancellation of sin, which is a debt, and absolutely nothing which we even can do.
I suppose that technically if the wages of sin is death then we are free to fulfil that contract but after the terms of the contract have been fulfilled, we’re not really in a place which renders us capable of doing anything else, ever.
Moreover, for most people working in the vineyard, it speaks to the fact that people get what they do not deserve; quite the opposite. They get paid generously.
If a rich man can not enter the Kingdom of Heaven, the question is “Who then can be saved?”
There’s a question.
The vineyard owner asks of some of the people in the marketplace ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.
This might sound like a little bit of a walk-up call but as Christians, we have standing orders to work in the vineyards – to go and make disciples of all nations.
There are probably many people that you know who are just waiting, standing around doing nothing, doing whatever they happen to feel like, because no-one has told them about the Kingdom yet. Even though we live in an age where we can read just about anything, it simply isn't even going to occur to people that they even need saving, unless someone does some work and tells them.
This was the rich young man’s question:
What good thing must I do to get eternal life?
There’s a question.
Of all the people in the marketplace, what good thing did any of them do to qualify them to enter the vineyard? Nothing. How many of them deserved to enter? None.
What’s really impressive, isn’t that people did or didn’t deserve to enter the vineyard but that the vineyard owner was persistently calling them in.
The owner of the vineyard goes out in the morning, at nine in the morning, at noon, at three in the afternoon and as older translations say “the eleventh hour”. That phrase has even passed into idiom and means at the last possible moment.
So it is with us. Christ’s call goes out again and again and again. If you haven’t yet entered the Kingdom of Heaven, it’s still not too late. That offer of salvation from our sins is still on offer.
For the rest of us, the reminder is still there; being in the vineyard means that we need to be productive.
We of course can never earn our salvation, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't stop working in the vineyard to produce a crop.
The owner of the vineyard will be returning eventually. We should want to be fruitful and not waste our time here.