The Grumbling Workers

Jesus told a parable of laborers who were hired for a day to work in a vineyard. Jesus started, “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard” (Matthew 20:1 ESV). The master agreed to hire them for a denarius, which was a typical day’s wage. Then going out at the third hour (9:00 AM) and hired more who were standing in the marketplace. He agreed to pay them “whatever is right.” He continued this at the sixth hour (12:00 PM) and the ninth hour (3:00 PM).

At the eleventh hour (5:00 PM) he found others standing idle and asked them why they were not working. They replied, “Because no one has hired us” (Matthew 20:7). The master hired them and they worked for an hour. In the evening, the master told his foreman to pay their wages, “beginning with the last, up to the first.” As the wages were paid out, the first were angry to learn that the last people hired received a denarius, the same amount that they had agreed to work for. “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat,” they bemoaned (vs. 12).

The master was quick to point out that the first agreed to work for a denarius and that he was free to use his own money however he wanted. The master replied, “Or do you begrudge my generosity?” Jesus ends the parable by saying, “So the last will be first, and the first, last” (vs. 16). By comparing the kingdom of heaven to the master, Jesus was demonstrating that God will extend grace to whom he will extend grace. We don’t know what kind of shape the last were in, but one thing we do know is that nobody would hire them. It’s possible they had some deformity or illness that rendered them not hirable. Whatever the case, the master extended grace and generosity to them because of his compassion.

As we equip others to serve, we need to remember that we labor for the Lord because it’s the right thing to do. We don’t do it to receive an earthly reward.

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