Thursday, August 5, 2010

Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard

I want to address an issue brought up on the Bible Answer Man broadcast, which is an issue I did not have the time to deal with completely. A caller named Patricia asked about the parable of the workers in the vineyard. Christ says,

The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

About the third hour 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 the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. About the eleventh hour 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 the eleventh hour 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 men 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, “Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man 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

Patricia was asking for the meaning of this parable. The parable of the workers in the vineyard is interesting in that those who worked all day long were actually envious of those who worked a fraction of the time. Why? Because they did not understand the concept of grace. They got what they bargained for. In other words, they got justice, though they accused the landowner of injustice. Those who do not understand grace and condemn the Grace Giver are not going to inherit the kingdom; for those who condemn grace, no grace will be given.

I remember reading R.C.H. Lenski, an expositor who once said, “The pearls of grace are never thrown before the wicked and self-righteous swine.”1 To accuse and condemn grace is the surest way to lose grace. Therefore, Jesus said, “the last will be first, and the first will be last.” No matter how good one believes that they are, grace is lost when grace is rejected.


1. RCH Lenski, Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1943), 779.

1 comment:

Dan G said...

It may well be possible to utterly reject the grace of God. I don't know about that. Obviously that is a subject of very long and very heated debate.

However, I have to take issue with this interpretation of this parable. If the wages being given represent inheritance of the kingdom then the envious ones did not miss out on the inheritance at all. They received it just like the ones who were hired late in the day. They might have been envious that they had to "work harder" for it, but they still received it nonetheless.

In the gospels being first and last seems to usually refer to being first or last in the kingdom. The first might be last, or the last might be first, but they are still "in the kingdom".

Perhaps this parable isn't even making a statement about who gets in, or doesn't get in, to the kingdom. Perhaps it is simply talking about reward. Or perhaps it is making a much more relevant point to the intended audience and we have gotten a bit confused in the way we apply it to ourselves today.