Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard
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The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (also called the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard or the Parable of the Generous Employer) is a parable of Jesus which appears in the Chapter 20 of the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament.
“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. And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way. Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day. 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? So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.”...— Matthew 20:1–16, King James Version
The parable has often been interpreted to mean that even those who are converted late in life earn equal rewards along with those converted early, and also that people who convert early in life need not feel jealous of those later converts. An alternative interpretation identifies the early laborers as Jews, some of whom resent the late-comers (Gentiles) being welcomed as equals in God's Kingdom. Both of these interpretations are discussed in Matthew Henry's 1706 Commentary on the Bible.
An alternative interpretation is that all Christians can be identified with the eleventh-hour workers. Arland J. Hultgren writes: "While interpreting and applying this parable, the question inevitably arises: Who are the eleventh-hour workers in our day? We might want to name them, such as deathbed converts or persons who are typically despised by those who are longtime veterans and more fervent in their religious commitment. But it is best not to narrow the field too quickly. At a deeper level, we are all the eleventh-hour workers; to change the metaphor, we are all honored guests of God in the kingdom. It is not really necessary to decide who the eleventh-hour workers are. The point of the parable—both at the level of Jesus and the level of Matthew's Gospel—is that God saves by grace, not by our worthiness. That applies to all of us."
Some commentators have used the parable to justify the principle of a "living wage", though generally conceding that this is not the main point of the parable. An example is John Ruskin in the 19th century, who quoted the parable in the title of his book Unto This Last. Ruskin did not discuss the religious meaning of the parable but rather its social and economic implications.
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- Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible, Matthew Henry, (1706).
- Arland J. Hultgren, The Parables of Jesus: A Commentary, Eerdmans, 2002, ISBN 0-8028-6077-X, p. 43.
- William Sloane Coffin, The collected sermons of William Sloane Coffin: the Riverside years, Volume 1, Westminster John Knox Press, 2008, ISBN 0-664-23244-2, p. 109.