The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard Explained
The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard in Matthew 20:1-16 is a very interesting parable given by Jesus. It is also a frustrating and confusing parable due to the underlying premise behind it.
To summarize, Jesus describes a landowner who calls workers throughout the day offering the same one denarius in wages. He even calls them up until the last moment, so that some workers only worked one hour and still got the same one denarius in wages. That is why the ones who worked the whole day see that and complain.
This would be really frustrating if it happened to you. Let’s say you were chosen at the docks to work a construction site carrying heavy bags of cement all day long for 12 hours. Then these guys come up in the last hour, carry a few heavy bags and get the same wages as you. Wouldn’t that feel unfair?
How does the owner respond to the complaint? He says that you got what was promised, don’t complain about my generosity. On one hand, you can say this is right, they got what they were told they were going to get. On the other hand, it still just doesn’t seem fair – working 12 hours vs 1 hour is a huge difference.
If you were the owners, wouldn’t you consider how long they worked and give them different wages? This goes against our sense of fairness, justice, and what is right.
This often applies to our faith as well. We often want God to be this way also – God should be just, right, and fair by our standards. If I prayed to God longer, went to service more, and dedicated myself more in faith, then God should bless me more in my life. We want God to work according to our standards. But this is wrong, this is not faith. The truth is that God has His standard, He judges, and not us.
In today’s parable, Jesus challenges us to closely look at our definitions of injustice, our sense of superiority, and our hatred when God doesn’t favor me. When generosity is given to someone else, it shatters my sense that I’m on top. When God’s grace is given to someone else, we don’t feel good. Instead, we feel envy, hostility, disappointment, and anger.
This is the sinfulness of our selfishness and our self-centeredness when it comes to grace. The truth of the matter is that when grace is given to me, then I’m happy. But when grace is given to someone else, then it just doesn’t seem fair. How hypocritical are we?
God’s grace doesn’t work on the boundaries that we define. Jesus is saying that the Kingdom of Heaven is not based on a hierarchy of skill, experience, looks, race, social status, or wealth like we see in the world. The world uses those things to put limits and boundaries on people.
Think about it, we play favorites all the time. If we met a good looking, rich, influential person, then we would treat that person better. God doesn’t play these kinds of favorites. Whether you are a sinner or holiest person, God’s grace pours down upon us all.
God’s Kingdom is not about all the standards in the world that we know of. The world and our societies are structured in a way that is based on a person’s skill, experience, looks, social status, and everything else you can think of.
What Jesus is saying in today’s parable is that Kingdom of Heaven is completely different. It’s a generosity of grace that is very pure.
It’s almost like what you see when in sports when a team wins a championship. Professional sports is the ultimate meritocracy where only the most skilled athletes rise to the top and get recognized. But for one brief moment when a team wins a championship, everyone celebrates together from the owners, to the star players, to the bench players, and all the way down the line. When the team wins that means everyone on the team is a champion.
The Kingdom of Heaven is also a place where we all celebrate together. The Kingdom of Heaven is not a place that satisfies our sense of who became a Christian first or who did greater work of God. Let’s face it, we are all the last ones to arrive, but we get to celebrate together. How great is that?