Scripture reading – Matthew 20
The story of the farmer who hired day laborers to work in his vineyard is among my favorite of the parables (20:1-16). Jesus told the parable as He was making His final journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. (19:1; 20:17).
Background of Matthew 20
The LORD, had traveled south along the eastern shore of the Jordan River, and encountered a man that Luke identified as a “rich young ruler” (Luke 18:18). Identified as a “ruler,” he was likely an influential leader in his local synagogue. The young ruler came and asked Jesus, “Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” (19:16)
He boasted he had kept all the Commandments, but supposed there was a “good thing” he might do to have eternal life (19:20). Then, Jesus asked the man to give up the thing he loved most, his possessions: “Sell that thou hast, and give to the poor…and come follow me” (19:21). Matthew observed, “when the young man heard [i.e. and understood] that saying, he went away sorrowful [grieving; sad]: for he had great possessions [estate; property]” (19:22).
As the rich man turned and walked away, Jesus declared to His disciples, “a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven” (19:23). Peter, often the spokesman for the disciples, inquired of Jesus, “Behold we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?” (19:27)
The Twelve had left everything and endured three years of sacrifice to follow Jesus. They had forfeited their homes, families, and friends. They had endured hardships and suffered mocking, scorn, and persecution. All this left Peter wondering, “LORD we have been with you from the beginning, what is our reward?” That question was the backdrop for the Parable of the Laborers (20:1-16) that serves as an illustration of God’s grace and justice.
The Parable of the Laborers (20:1-16)
The owner of a vineyard realized his harvest was greater than his family and servants could harvest in a timely manner. In the parable (20:1-16), the farmer went into the village on five occasions, in the same day, to hire men to work in his vineyard. The first workers were hired at the 6:00am shift (20:1-2) and agreed to work in the vineyard for a “penny a day” (actually one “denarii”, the daily salary of a Roman soldier and a large sum for a day laborer). Four additional hires would follow that day: 9:00am, 12 Noon, 3:00pm and the final hire at 5:00pm. All were hired without a stated salary, but with the promise the owner of the vineyard would give them “whatsoever is right” (20:4, 7).
With 6:00pm marking the end of the workday, the owner directed his foreman to pay the laborers beginning with those who were hired at 5:00pm, meaning the last hour (20:8). To their amazement, the ones who worked only one hour were paid the same wage (a penny or denarii) as those who labored all day beginning at the 6:00am hour.
Demonstrating the jealousy and covetousness that abides in the heart of sinful man, those men who negotiated a penny wage at 6:00am “supposed that they should have received more” (20:10). Envious and resentful, the workers began murmuring and complaining against the owner of the vineyard, and accused him of being unjust. They protested they should have received more (20:11-12).
A Lesson in Grace and Salvation (20:13-16)
The owner (a picture of Christ) of the vineyard rebuked those who labored all day (a picture of the Twelve), and reminded them they had negotiated and agreed to what they were paid (20:13-14). Furthermore, it was the owner’s business, and not the workers, to choose the wage other laborers were paid (20:15).
Closing thoughts – Whether a sinner comes to Christ as a child or, like the penitent thief on the cross in his last hour, every believer is assured of heaven and eternal life (20:16). Why? Because every sinner is saved by a gift of God’s grace, and none can earn or merit salvation and forgiveness of sin. Whether you have known and served the LORD since childhood, or you came to trust Christ as Savior in the latter years of life, all mankind are saved on the same basis: God’s mercy and saving Grace (His favor that no works can merit).
Ephesians 2:8-9 – “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.”
Titus 3:5 – “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;”
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Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith
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