THE LABORERS IN THE VINEYARD
Matthew 20:16 So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many are called, but few are chosen. (Also see Matthew 20:1-15)
The lesson text is the concluding verse to this parable given by Jesus. The nineteenth chapter of Matthew ends with a verse similar to the lesson text, but many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first. In this parable, Jesus is teaching his disciples, as well as us today, about the reward of heaven - salvation that is available to God's children through Him, and His body, the church of Christ.
The parable, recorded in Matthew 20:1-15, is paraphrased in the following manner. A householder had a vineyard on his land that needed agricultural attention. Whether the vineyard needed pruning, weeding, cultivation, or the harvesting of its fruit, we are not told, but the owner needed laborers to perform certain of these tasks. He went to the labor market place early in the morning and hired workers agreeing to pay them a penny a day. Exactly how much this was in today's currency is not known, but, at that particular time in Jewish history,it was evidently the going rate for a day's work. Agreeing to this wage, he sent the laborers into his vineyard to work.
About the third hour of the day, the householder realized he needed additional laborers. Heagain, went into the market place and hired more, not telling them the exact wage he would pay them, but telling them that whatsoever is right I will give you. With the work-day beginning at six in the morning, this was about nine o'clock. As more laborers were needed, the householder hired more in this same manner at about the sixth, ... the ninth, ...and the eleventh hour of the workday. At the twelfth hour, the end of the workday, considered to be 6:00 PM as time is calculated today, the householder asked his steward to call the laborers in and pay them, beginning from the last unto the first. Those hired at the eleventh, ninth, sixth, and third hours were all given a penny for their labor. Those hired at the beginning of the workday thought that since they had labored much longer that they would receive a greater wage.
The laborers first hired complained when they too were paid a penny for their day's labor. They said, 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. To this the householder replied that he had paid them the wage that they had agreed to and indicated that out of the goodness of his heart he paid all other laborers the same wage. His final remark to them was, is thine eye evil, because I am good? He was posing this question to them: "Do you look upon my generosity as something evil instead of something good?"
The kingdom of heaven is like unto this parable. In it, God is the householder and the vineyard represents the church, the body of Christ. The laborers, then, are those that have heard and obeyed the gospel call; those that have been added to the church and are now called Christians. The different times of the day the laborers were called to work in the vineyard, represent the various stages of life that one accepts Jesus as their Savior and is added to His church. Some hear, believe, and obey God's call as soon as they reach the age of accountability. Indeed, this is commendable. However, others often become Christians at later years of their lives, whether they are young adults, middle-aged men and women, or the elderly. This, too, is commendable. The wages given to the laborers represent the reward of heaven. God has promised all men and women of the world that, after obediently obey His requirements of becoming a Christian and been added to His Church, the body of Christ; that if they remainfaithful until death, or until the Day of Judgment, they will be rewarded eternal salvation in heaven.
Faithfulness that resultsafterobedience to God, by becoming a Christian,is Hisonly requirement for salvation. Time is not a factor. Neither the untimely death of a young Christian, nor the death of an elderly person that was a faithful Christian for a very short time, prevents or limits the salvation God offers through His Son, Jesus Christ. Those that have been privileged to live faithfully and obediently as Christians for many years are taught by this parable that their reward will be the same as those that served, obeyed, and followed Christ for only a very short time. The wage for faithful, obedient service in the kingdom of God on earth is salvation in heaven. This is the wage you agree to when becoming a Christian, and this is the wage that will be paid. Many will hear God's call, but few will chose to accept it. The last shall be first, and the first last in the kingdom of heaven. The rich on earth will be made poor in heaven, and the poor will become rich; those holding high positions in life here on earth will be brought lower in heaven and the lowly will be exalted. All will be equal and receive the same reward - salvation. Thank you God for your wisdom and goodness!