“And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner” (Matthew 20:9-11).
It’s now time to for the workers to pick up their pay and those who were hired early in the morning saw that those who were hired around 5pm still received the equivalent of a full day’s pay. These workers (who had spent all day in the field) naturally assumed that they would be given more than the laborers who had only worked for an hour or so. But when these early workers found that they received the very same wages as those who were hired later, they began to complain. Even though they were paid a day’s wage for a day’s work, they still felt unfairly treated because there were others who worked less but still got paid an equal amount.
Here’s what they said…
“‘…these last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day'” (Matthew 20:12).
That seems to be a valid complaint, right? But now let’s see what the landowner has to say…
“But he answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? ‘Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?'” (Matthew 20:13-15).
If we could rephrase this, we might say that the landowner says in effect, “Look, I haven’t done anything wrong. When I met you down at the marketplace at 6 o’clock this morning, didn’t you agree to come and work all day today in exchange for a day’s wage? Here is the money that I promised to give you.”
This response illustrates that the workers who were hired early lost sight of the big picture. The only thing that these workers could see was, “those other people worked less but were paid the same” even though they received exactly what they agreed to. And so Jesus winds up this parable by telling us, “So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen” (Matthew 20:16).
Now what’s the point of this parable? Is it really about vineyards and laborers and some people who worked less than others but still were paid the same? Well, we could look at it that way but then what would be the point of this story? After all, remember that the purpose of this parable is to teach us a deeper spiritual truth. So what is the key that will help us to unlock the deeper truth behind this parable?
Well, instead of looking at The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard as a just a story, what if we were to think of it as a kind of allegory, or a story with characters and events that represent something else. If we take this approach, then this parable becomes a powerful tool that we can use to learn and apply some important spiritual truths.
Let’s start by looking at the characters and events within the story. For example, who or what does the vineyard owner represent in this story? Well, the vineyard owner would be symbolic of God, the One who is the owner of everything. The laborers who accept the vineyard owner’s invitation to work in his fields represent those people who become Christians and “go to work for God” so to speak.
OK, so what does the vineyard refer to? Well, the vineyard would be symbolic of the world. The workers hired at 6am represent those people who accept God’s invitation early in life and have spent their entire lives in service to Him, or “working in His field.”
With this in mind, it should be easy to guess who the workers that arrive at 9am, 12 noon, 3pm and 5pm represent. Those workers represent the people who come to God later in life, even if it’s “late in the day” or near the very end of their lives. Finally, the denarius that the vineyard workers are paid is symbolic of Heaven, the reward that God will give to everyone who accepts His invitation, just as the workers in this parable did.