Jesus Gives the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard

Matthew 20:1-16

After the rich young man had gone away, Jesus taught a parable that he said teaches about the kingdom of heaven.  In this story Jesus told, a landowner went to the marketplace to find workers who could spend the day laboring in the man’s vineyard.

The man found workers at the beginning of the day and agreed to pay them one penny to work the entire 12-hour day. 

At the third hour, the man was again in the marketplace and saw other men there who were not working.  He asked them to work in his vineyard also and told them that he would pay them what was right.

The man did this again at the 6th and 9th hours, finding men to work and told them he would pay them what was right.

Again at the 11th hour, with only one hour left to work, he found men in the marketplace who told him that they weren’t working only because nobody had hired them yet that day.  The landowner told these men the same thing as the others, to go and work the rest of the day and he would pay them what was right.

Then, at the end of the workday, it was time to pay the workers.  The man asked that those who started last be paid first and those who started first would be paid last.  These men being paid first had only worked one hour.  He gave each of them a penny, the agreed amount to pay those who would work the entire day.  Those who started with only three hours left in the day also got a penny.  Likewise, he paid all the others a penny.  When those who worked the entire day saw the others receive their penny, they expected to be paid more.  They received a penny, just like the others.

Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard by Rembrandt van Rijn

The men who worked the entire day complained that they had worked all day, during the heat, and those men who worked less got paid the same amount.  It didn’t seem fair to them.

The landowner told one, “Friend, I do thee no wrong.” He reminded the worker that they had agreed on a penny for the whole day.  The landowner asked, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?”  He repeated his decision to “give unto this last, even as unto thee.”

What do you think?

  • Is it sometimes hard to see others receive what seems like extra, even if you’ve been treated fairly?
  • If the landowner had changed his mind and took back part of the pay given to those who worked less, would that make those who worked the full day happier?  Does it seem right to feel happy about someone else receiving less?
  • How is this story like the kingdom of heaven?
  • What is the reward for working in God’s kingdom? 
  • When do those rewards begin?  When do they end?
  • In the end, do some get more for working in God’s kingdom than others?  If they did, would it be based on how long they worked, or on some other way?

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