“For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard” (Matthew 20:1, 2).
Since it was the time of harvest, the owner needed workers to bring in the ripe grapes. The market place was a common gathering place, so he arrived early in the day (probably before six in the morning) to hire laborers. Perhaps he hired the most desirable workers or all those who were present at the time.
The workers agreed to work for him for a penny for the day, which was about an average day’s wages. It seems he later reassessed the situation and realized he needed more workers and returned to the market place about nine AM (three hours later). There he found laborers waiting for someone to hire them. When he inquired why they were idle and not working, they explained that no one would hire them.
Here we raise the question: Why would vineyard owners who needed help with the harvest not hire them? Were they handicapped, outcasts, of bad reputation or considered lazy? We don’t know, but we do know that they must have been considered not worthy and no one wanted to hire them; but the householder in our story did. He must have seen something redeemable in the “undesirables.” He agreed to pay them a penny and sent them to his vineyard.
This scene was repeated at noon, three o’clock in the afternoon and finally at five in the evening, just one hour from the end of the work day at six. Each time, the workers were told they were to receive fair wages.
We would assume that the late comers’ wages would be pro-rated according to the hours they worked. However, when the day ended, the householder called his steward and instructed him to pay each worker the same, a penny. This caused the workers who had worked all day in the heat harvesting grapes to complain because the late comers received the same pay. The owner explained that he was not harming the ones who worked all day since he paid them what they agreed on; and since it was his money he could use it as he saw fit.
“But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?” (Matthew 20:13-15).
The householder in the story hired workers that other vineyard owners did not want and paid them for a day’s wages, even though some of them came in at the “eleventh hour.”
We must not confuse this parable of Jesus with rewards for faithful service. This apparently is a picture of “whosoever” will accept the invitation of the Holy Spirit to follow Jesus for salvation will be accepted. He accepts the “less desirables” of the world; He died for them! Those that others reject and consider worthless, Jesus embraces into His Kingdom; He even puts them to work for Him! Jesus certainly knew what it was to be rejected, by the very ones that He gave His life for! But that didn’t alter His plan. He was the “stone” that had been rejected but chosen by God to be the “chief corner stone”! The world has many stories of folks who were considered undesirable and thought worthless by the world’s standard but have been great warriors for Jesus Christ after their conversion.
In fact, we can find many of their stories in the Bible. To name a few, Abraham’s deception when he lied about Sarah being his wife to save their lives in a foreign country and later took her handmaiden to have a son thinking he would hasten God’s promise of an heir. Yet God used Him to create the nation of Israel. Gideon was so fearful that he backed up from the call God gave him to save Israel from the Midianites even though an angel came to announce his mission. In spite of his hesitation, the angel said, “The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour.” David was guilty of adultery and murder, yet God called him a man after His own heart. Even Moses murdered an Egyptian and had to flee to the desert to save his life, yet God used him to lead two to three million Hebrews to freedom from Egyptian bondage.
Had these and many others been judged by human standards of their worthiness of the Kingdom of God, they would have been “undesirable.” Certainly Saul/Paul who persecuted the early church to the point of prison and death would not have been chosen to be an evangelist to the Gentile world. When we repent and are forgiven, God sees what we can become in Him, not what we are when He calls us. He knew Abraham would be faithful, that Gideon would rise to the occasion and that David had a repentant heart that “panteth after thee, O God” (Psalm 42:1). God did not look at the frustrated Paul who persecuted Christians, but saw what He could accomplish with the redeemed person he became. God knew that Moses had a heart for the welfare of the Israelites; he had an incredible encounter with God and came away with the Ten Commandments.
The workers could have turned down the job opportunity the householder offered in the parable and missed out on the day’s wages. The householder could have wondered why they were not hired earlier and considered them not worthy, but he didn’t; he hired some of them for a few hours and paid them for a full day.
God saw value in His creation and He ended his Holy Word to us by having recorded for all the ages: “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And WHOSOEVER will, let him take the water of life FREELY” [emphasis mine] (Revelation 22:17).
Just as the householder in Jesus’ parable invited those who had been rejected by other vineyard owners to come work in his vineyard, He calls those whom others may reject and consider not worth saving to “take the water of life freely.”
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that WHOSOEVER [emphasis mine] believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
When we stand before the cross of Jesus, there are no castes, no classes; we stand on the same level—we are all sinners. It is when we surrender to the call of the Holy Spirit and realize that Jesus bore our sins on the cross that we become one with Him regardless of our stations in life on earth. We all get our “penny.” There may be those like the first workers in the vineyard who think of themselves as being more worthy of salvation than others, but God sees us all as His beloved children. We were all sinners, but Jesus bought our redemption equally. The same price was paid for us all.
As mentioned earlier, we are not to confuse this parable with “rewards.” This parable is relating to those who answered the call when the householder invited them to his vineyard. If it had been about merit or rewards, the “penny” wage would have been prorated and those who began late would have received less.
Jesus said, “And, behold, I come quickly, [soon or by surprise]; and my reward is with me, to give every man [person] according as his work shall be” (Revelation 22:12).
And in Luke 12:48 “…For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required…”
While rewards will vary according to our faithfulness, there will be no “less desirables” in God’s Kingdom. The rewards will not make God love us more; there is a suitable place in His Kingdom for everyone who will answer the call. We are not all equally proficient in the same things; we are each uniquely endowed, but we will be rewarded according to our commitment to our call and faithfulness to fulfill it.
“His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou has been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matthew 25:21).
A good rule for us is to “live as if Jesus will come tomorrow and work as diligently as if it all depends on us to get the job done before he comes”—and know that He loves us as if we were perfect.
Jesus told His disciples that the fields were “white already to harvest” (John 4:35). In fact He further instructed His disciples to pray that the Lord of the harvest would send more reapers into the field, because the fields were plenteous with only a few laborers to bring the harvest in (Matthew 9:37, 38).
It is time for us to focus on the harvest and not on who the reapers are—that’s God’s business. It is our business to pray "that the Lord of the harvest would send more harvesters."
Everyone God calls is made worthy by His redeeming grace through Jesus Christ our Lord!
We are worthy, and so is everyone the Lord calls to the harvest. Thrust in the scythe!