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
Jesus’ parable shows us how God’s grace is not dependent on a person’s own merits. It is also not dependent on how long or how successful our endeavor in faith—our workday in the Lord’s vineyard—has been. Everything depends on whether we hear and heed the invitation of God, the owner of the vineyard. A person may be called in the morning of his or her life, in youth, in adulthood or in old age. Sometimes the invitation arrives on a person’s deathbed, in the eleventh hour. It is important that a person is ready to accept that invitation when it arrives.
Everyone Received the Same Wage
Jesus’ parable about paying wages goes against one’s rational mind. To us it’s obvious that the one who has worked more will also be paid more. We call that fair. A person can also be paid more for having special skills, a high education or for being very diligent in his or her work. Nonetheless the basis for pay in God’s vineyard were different. Everyone got the same pay. Some laborers murmured against the vineyard master. But the master hadn’t done wrong. He had honored the contract he made with the workers that came to work early in the morning. He asked them, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?” He wanted to be good to each who had heeded the call and to reward them richly. The boundaries of God’s grace are not tied to the limits of our understanding or reason.
One day God will pay the wage for faith. That reward is great. It is much greater than we are able to anticipate. The Apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians about this reward—eternal life with God—as follows: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Cor. 2:9).
We Believe for This Moment
It is worth noting that when the vineyard master paid wages he did not talk about how many hours a person had worked, the quality of the work or how competent each worker was. All who worked in the vineyard received the same wage. If those who came in the early morning had left the vineyard before the workday was over, they would not have received a wage. On the other hand, the one who worked only one hour received the same wage as the one who toiled all day. It has been said that the faith of yesterday is gone and tomorrow has not yet come; it is therefore important to believe for this moment. Prophet Ezekiel addresses this same matter: “When a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth in them; for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die. Again, when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive” (Ezek. 18:26,27). Even under the burden of work and in the heat of the day we mustn’t think that we’ll leave from the vineyard and return in the evening. Grace of repentance is a gift of God, not something a person can acquire when he or she decides to.
On the last day the length of the working day ceases to have any meaning. We remember the thief on the cross. He found God’s kingdom at the last moment. Jesus promised him, “To day shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). He also received the full reward.