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Worship Message - "The Parable of Workers in a Vineyard"

The Parable of
Workers in a Vineyard

We have recently been considering in our Sunday morning messages some of the teachings of Jesus. Teachings that came in the form of parables. Stories told by Jesus to make spiritual points.

Jesus told many parables during His three-year earthly ministry. The number is about four dozen stories. The ones we have considered recently are the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, the Parable of the Sower, and the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds.

Today another parable told by Jesus, this one in chapter 20 of the Gospel of Matthew. The Parable of Workers in a Vineyard.

Jesus said in verse 1, “For the kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.”

The setting is this. Vineyards grow grapes. Grapes ripened in September. The rainy season started soon after that. Any grapes not harvested before the rains came were ruined. That means each year, the harvest of grapes had to be done in a hurry. It was a frantic race against time. Workers were needed. They were welcome.

For the kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning. In that culture, the day began at 6:00 a.m. It was that early the landowner went out to hire laborers for his vineyard. He went to where men stood, waiting at kind of a labor exchange. Where men waited to get hired for the day. They hoped to get hired for the day. The landowner went out early in the morning to hire laborers to harvest his grapes.

There he found some men, some of whom he hired. According to verse 2, the agreement he made with those men was that they would each receive a denarius for their day’s work, a denarius being the normal day’s wage for a working man. It was not a lot of pay, but it was something. It was enough to keep a family surviving for a day.

For three hours, the men who were hired worked in the vineyard. I am sure the men made good progress. However, it appeared they would not finish the harvest. So at the third hour, which was 9:00 in the morning, the landowner returned to the labor exchange, where he found that many of the men who had not been hired earlier were still there. The landowner hired some of them and sent them into his vineyard.

By the way, in the parable it says, in verse 3, that the men at the labor exchange at 9:00 were “standing idle.” We need to avoid getting the wrong idea. It is not that those men were lazy. Far from it. It is just that they had the misfortune of not being hired, which was a terrible thing for them. Remember the wage they hoped for was enough for one day of survival. In that day and age, without the many social programs we have now, not being hired could be tragic. The men still at the labor exchange were not idle by choice. They simply had not been hired.

Imagine the joy of those hired at 9:00 in the morning. They knew they would not get a full day’s wage, but they would get something. Enough to buy at least a little bit of food for themselves and their families. But there is some interesting wording, this time in verse 4. The landowner said to them, “You go into the vineyard, too, and whatever is right I will give you.”

Isn’t that an interesting challenge to trust? The amount of pay was not mentioned. The men hired at 9:00 were just supposed to trust the landowner would be fair.

Apparently the men did trust. They went to the vineyard and worked.

The extra men helped with the harvest, but at the sixth hour - at noon - this in verse 5 - the landowner was still not satisfied with the race against time. So he went again to the labor exchange, where some men were still standing. He hired some more of them at noon. He did the same again at the ninth hour, which was what we know as 3:00 in the afternoon. To those men he again promised to pay whatever was right.

Verse 6. At about the eleventh hour - about 5:00 in the afternoon - about one hour before the end of the day - the landowner went to the labor exchange one more time. There he found some men still standing.

Remember what was said earlier about the normal pay for a working man being a denarius for a day’s work. That was the amount needed for survival. Can we imagine the panic, the distress, at least the sadness of the men still at the labor exchange? Without a denarius that day, they and their families would suffer. The men were not happy to have been idle all day. They were scared because of what had happened in their not being hired.

I wonder if those men were hopeful at seeing the landowner one more time. If they were, their hope was rewarded. After being asked why they still stood there, the landowner checking to make sure they were not lazy, and after they responded they were there because no one had hired them, their sad tones of voice enough to convince the landowner they were distressed, those men were hired. They, too, were sent into the vineyard.

Verse 8. When evening came - which would be 6:00 p.m., which was the end of the day - just an hour after the last hires had been sent to the vineyard, three hours after the 3:00 hires had started their work, six hours after the noon hires, a full 12 hours after those who had worked all day had started their labor, those 12 hours representing the normal work day, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, “Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.”

When the last came - those hired about the eleventh hour who had worked just one hour - each of them, at the direction of the landowner, received a denarius.

What? A full denarius? Yes, a full day’s wage. Imagine the joy of those men. They had worked just an hour, but they received a full day’s wage. They and their families would be able to eat that night. They would be able to survive another day. Those men had to have been overjoyed with their pay.

I assume the three and the six and the nine hour workers also received a denarius. Maybe that was done quietly because there was not a problem until those who had worked the entire day arrived for their pay. Imagine their shock when they, too, received a denarius.

According to verse 10, they were not especially upset that the others had received a full day’s wage, but they thought they would receive more. They thought they deserved more since they had worked more hours.

When they, too, received a denarius, they grumbled at the landowner. Another word for what they did is “murmured.” They sneered and talked low and menacingly, discontent and jealousy in their voices.

Their words? “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat?”

Those who had been hired first complained about their pay. Instead of feeling good that they had had the opportunity to work all day, knowing work is good, and despite the fact they had avoided the anguish of wondering how they would be able to provide for themselves and their families - the others, especially those who were hired last, had experienced a very nerve-wracking day, which the men who had worked all day had avoided - instead of feeling good for themselves and feeling good that their fellow workers would also be able to survive another day, they complained about the pay they received.

The landowner’s response to one of them in verse 13 began with the word “friend.” Isn’t that an interesting greeting? The landowner was being murmured and grumbled against, yet he called one of the unhappy ones, which was a message for all who were grumbling, “friend.” What patience is displayed in that word.

“Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? I am paying you what I owe you. What I promised you. Take what belongs to you, and go.”

He added, “I choose to give to the last workers as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me. Or do you begrudge my generosity?”

Either way, it was up to the landowner how to treat his workers. It was up to him what to do with the rewards he had to give. It was his decision to pay all his workers the same.

That, except for one more verse, which we will get to in a bit, is the Parable of Workers in a Vineyard, which, as it is with the other stories told by Jesus, was designed to be more than just a nice story. It was told to make a spiritual point. To teach spiritual lesson. With this parable, a few lessons.

So, what did Jesus want to teach with this parable?

With the other parables we have considered recently, Jesus explained to His disciples what He intended to teach. He explained the parables to the disciples because they asked Him to do so. With this one, they apparently did not ask because no explanation is recorded. But I bet we can figure it out.

Let’s do so, remembering the responsibility we have that when we know what Jesus taught - when we understand His points - it is our spiritual responsibility to obey and apply them. That makes our figuring out very important.

Let’s figure it out, beginning with the landowner, who represents God, who early on chose workers, doing so in Old Testament times, those workers being the Jewish people They were chosen - hired in the wording of the parable. They were chosen to live by God’s teachings. They were to represent God in the world.

Interestingly, many times in Old Testament history, the Jewish people did not live by God’s teachings. They were therefore poor representatives of Him in the world. So it was that when Jesus came, He taught anew the need to know and obey God. He did that teaching one-on-one. He trained others to also teach, then and especially in the future. Jesus chose a group of 12 men to be His disciples. in Jesus’ earthly ministry, applying that to the parable, the disciples were the first hires of day.

But Jesus called others to follow Him. He would later call upon His disciples, after His death, resurrection, and return to Heaven, to have a ministry that would attract many, many more to faith in Jesus. Those would be the later hires. Even today that continues as we witness to others. In some cases, it is toward the end of a person’s life - about the eleventh hour - when some accept Jesus as Savior.

The pay? It is same for all. Not a denarius. Spiritually, the pay is forgiveness, which results in salvation. Being saved from whatever sins have been committed. Which is needed to survive, not only for this day, but for all the other days of our lives. Survival all the way to Heaven.

The point? Remember the first hires, at the end of the day, grumbled that they did not receive something extra for all the work they had done. I think one of the teachings of today’s parable - one of the spiritual lessons - was a warning for the disciples. It was to them the parable was originally told. I think one of the teachings of today’s parable is a warning for the disciples to not become spiritually arrogant.

Being first, they might have had the tendency to get to thinking they deserved something extra from God. Those today who have been Christians for a long time might get to feeling the same way. In fact, it seems, in a worldly sense, that such a feeling is logical. I mean, should not longevity be worth something?

However, to God, all who accept Him are worthy of the same reward, which is forgiveness and salvation. And though equal reward may not make sense in a worldly way, remember what the landowner said to the grumblers, which is what God will say to us if we grumble. “I am doing you no wrong. Have you not received what I promised? And am I not allowed to give what I want to give? Take what I have given you, and do not begrudge My generosity.”

And speaking of generosity, over and over again Jesus taught that people are to love. In the Gospel of John is the teaching for Jesus’ followers to love one another. One part of love is wanting what is best for another person, including fellow Christians. What is best is forgiveness and salvation. So we should be joyful whenever anyone joins us in our faith. We are to be joyful rather than thinking that if a person came to the faith later, he or she deserves less of a reward.

In the parable, the landowner represents God, who gives all who accept Jesus the reward of forgiveness and salvation, for which we are warned to be happy. That is one of the teachings of the parable.

Another lesson? How about that when we are saved - when we are, in a spiritual sense, hired - we are to work, just as those hired in the parable were to work. For them, they worked in the landowner’s vineyard. For us, we are to work in the world.

What work are we called to do?

How about planting? In the parable, the vines had already been planted, but in the world, we can plant the seeds of the Gospel, doing what we can to help the seeds sprout.

How about watering? Again, in the parable, the watering had already been done, but we can water new Christians, doing that by encouraging them and by helping them in other ways.

How about building fences? In the parable, the vineyard no doubt had a fence around it. Spiritually, we can build fences, as in helping other Christians to be protected from spiritual enemies. As in helping other Christians to keep their faith close to them.

How about harvesting? How about leading others to faith in Christ?

There are all sorts of types of spiritual work to be done in the world, and though not everyone will be a harvester, all the work that needs to be done to help get to the harvest is important. May we never be jealous of what others do. May we never be arrogant if what someone else does seems less important. Let’s know the importance of all spiritual work.

And again, some have worked for the Lord for decades. Others have worked for the Lord for a while. Others are new Christians. Some will continue to join the work force, some late in life.

It does not matter. All spiritual work is important, no matter how long it is done. The importance is that the work be done.

The landowner represents God, who gives all who accept Jesus the reward of forgiveness and salvation, for which we are to be happy.

When we are saved, we are to work for the Lord in the world.

And then the lesson that how we are rewarded spiritually is a wonderful gift.

I am intrigued by what the landowner said to the later hires. The first ones hired were told what they would receive, but the later ones were simply told they would be paid what was right. Which happened, the later hires receiving what was needed for them to survive.

Forgiveness and salvation. That is what we need to survive spiritually. Do we trust God as the later hires trusted the landowner, that we will receive what we need, no matter when we accept the Lord and work for Him?

I guess one of the points is that no one should ever think he or she is too late in life to accept Jesus and serve Him. Even the eleventh-hour workers received what they needed. That is what happens spiritually whenever a person accepts Jesus.

I think another point is that what we receive is a gift, which is the result of the generosity of God. There is no way we can ever earn forgiveness and salvation. It is a free gift, a generous gift, a wonderful gift from God.

Jesus ended this parable with the words, “So the last will be first, and the first last.” I do not believe that was a teaching that the later hires - that later converts to faith in Jesus - are better than the first. It is just a reminder to have the right attitude of knowing that all are precious to God, that all who belong to Jesus are to work for Him, that forgiveness and salvation are a wonderful gift.

Know that. Know all that. Have the right attitude. Then all will be equal in the spiritual vineyard of God.

Today’s closing song is the hymn Come, All Christians, Be Committed. As we sing, let’s be committed to working together - young and old, new Christians and longtime believers. Let’s work together as common receivers of the wonderful gift of forgiveness and salvation.

Come, all Christians, be committed to the service of the Lord.
make your lives for Him more fitted, tune your hearts with one accord
Come into His courts with gladness, each his sacred vows renew,
Turn away from sin and sadness, be transformed with life anew.

Of your time and talents give ye, they are gifts from God above,
To be used by Christians freely to proclaim His wondrous love.
Come again to serve the Savior, tithes and offerings with you bring.
In your work with Him find favor, and with joy His praises sing.

God’s command to love each other is required of everyone.
Showing mercy to another mirrors His redemptive plan.
In compassion He has given of His love that is divine;
On the cross sins were forgiven; joy and peace are fully thine.

Verse 4 presents a challenge. It will be our benediction.

Come in praise and adoration, all who on Christ’s name believe.
Worship Him with consecration, grace and love will you receive.
For His grace give Him the glory, for the Spirit and the Word,
and repeat the Gospel story until all His name have heard.


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