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  • Writer's pictureZack DeBruyne

Labourers in the Vineyard

Updated: Mar 17, 2021

Laborers in the Vineyard - Matthew 20:1-16

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius[a] for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

“About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.

“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

“‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’ “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner.

‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’“But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend.

Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you.

Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

What is something that stood out to you in this parable? ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

What do you think about the saying that Jesus finishes the parable with: ‘So the last will be first, and the first will be last’?________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

How do you interpret the meaning or point of this parable? ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Kingdom of Heaven

  • God’s long awaited saving reign, which we are now a part of as believers in Christ Jesus.

  • It began with the life of Jesus, and continues on in our world today.

  • His invitation to people to ‘enter’ the kingdom was a way of inviting people into this new way of life.

  • It does not refer to a place (‘heaven’), but to the fact of God’s becoming king in and through Jesus and his achievement.

Denarius: The regular daily wage for a day of hard labour during this time.

Last will be first, and the first will be last

  • Jesus is teaching the disciples and warning them about their attitudes towards this Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus is bringing.

  • Being a follower is Jesus it is not about being rich and powerful, but in fact, the complete opposite.

Locations & Characters

Owner of the Vineyard

  • The landowner who decided to hire each of the workers

  • Representative of God

  • The Vineyard: Represents the world of activity.

Hours of Work: Divided into three-hour increments from 6:00AM to 6:00PM.

  • Workers often needed to work each day to provide food for their families for that day -- they did not have money to save up.

Two Key Groups of Workers

6AM Workers

  • Those who are chosen first for the work.

  • The strongest looking.

  • Those who work a long hard day to earn the wage.

5PM Workers

  • Why had they not been spotted and chosen for work earlier?

  • “Nobody has hired us,” nobody wanted them. They were the kind of people that nobody wanted to hire.

  • But if they did not wait around to get hired, they would not have enough money to purchase food that they need to survive.

  • These workers would have expected 1/12th of the amount as the first workers hired at 6:00AM.

How would you have felt if you were hired at 6:00AM when you saw the 5PM workers receive 1 denarius? What about when you received 1 denarius too?


Holy vs. Unholy

  • We have this idea that those who are in spiritual jobs or roles are more holy than we are.

    • Or that those who have been Christians longer are therefore better more perfect believers.

  • We mistakenly make the assumption that we are unholy and therefore must be the 5PM workers, just sneaking in at the last minute.

  • But God can and will use all of us, in all of our lives, to share the love, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, and self-control of Jesus.

  • We are all considered holy and forgiven in God’s eyes. No matter how or when we come to a personal faith in Him.

  • God is out on campus, looking for the people everybody else tried to ignore, welcoming them on the same terms, surprising them (and everybody else) with his generous grace.

Do you feel more holy or unholy?


The Early Workers

  • This man did not have a regular job, so getting the denarius that he had agreed upon was more than what he would have had at the end of the day except for the fortunate intervention of the landowner.

  • He should simply be thankful that he had enough to care for the day’s needs for his family.

  • The central issue was the self-centeredness of the laborer. He was only thinking about himself, not about the generosity and intervention of the landowner or the fortune of the other laborers.

Envy, Gratitude, and Equality

Envy (20:15)

  • We are often envious of others. The way they look, the way they dress, their grades, their money, their relationships.

  • Someone always looks a certain way, or has a certain something or someone that we do not. And so we are marked with envy -- wishing that we were more like them.

  • The early workers were envious that the late workers were given the same wage that they had been given for their hard labour!

  • If our eyes are fixed on envy of earthly material value, physical beauty, personal fame or popularity -- then we become engulfed with a desire to be someone and something that we are not.

    • Envy and comparison consume us.

  • As the landowner points out, to think of rewards and to compare with others will cause us both to question the wisdom and fairness of God and to become envious of others.

  • It begins to turn our hearts and our eyes away from gratitude or thankfulness for what we’ve been given.

    • "The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!" (Matthew 6:22–23).

How have you experienced envy in your life? How does our world create an environment where envy is a common feeling?________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Fair and Unfair

  • Those hired last were unworthy of what they received, yet they were paid first and treated with equality to those who were hired first.

  • And those who were hired first were paid last, and from their point of view, treated unfairly as though they were equal to those who were last.

  • Much like the older brother, we have ideas about what is fair and what should be done to us or for us.

  • Yet God’s grace and love goes beyond our human understanding of what is fair or unfair!

What is this Parable about?

  • God’s grace, in short, is not the sort of thing you can bargain with or try to store up.

  • It isn’t the sort of thing that one person can have a lot of and someone else only a little.

  • The point of the story is that what people get from having served God and his kingdom is not, actually, a ‘wage’ at all.

  • It’s not, strictly, a reward for work done. God doesn’t make contracts with us, as if we could bargain or negotiate for a better deal.

  • He makes perfect promises, in which he promises us everything and asks of us everything in return.

  • When he keeps his promises, he is not rewarding us for effort, but doing what comes naturally to his overflowingly generous nature.


  • So this parable is a lesson on gratitude and motivation in service. The parable is not about salvation or gaining eternal life, because salvation is not earned by works (Eph. 2:8–9; Titus 3:5–6).

  • Nor is the parable about rewards for service, because God will reward believers differently according to their service (1 Cor. 3:8; John 4:36).

  • If the denarius stands for rewards, there is no distinction, because every worker got the same reward.

  • We know there is nothing we have that we have not first received. And out of that knowledge comes the wellspring of gratitude that affects what we are, what we do and say, and how we conduct our lives.

  • Søren Kierkegaard gives memorable expression to gratitude as the characteristic attitude of the redeemed person:

    • “I am a poor wretch whom God took charge of, and for whom he has done so indescribably much more than I ever expected … that I only long for the peace of eternity in order to do nothing but thank him.”

What is something that you are grateful for today? ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

A Response to Jesus’ Forgiveness

  • No matter where we are in our life of faith

  • Maybe we are still waiting to respond to the landowner calling us to come to Him and work in His vineyard.

  • Maybe we feel like 5 o’clock Christians, sneaking our way into the Christian community after a lifetime away from it.

  • This parable tells us that God does not see any of us in a different light -- no matter our pasts, no matter how late to the game we might be!

  • As we accept Jesus, as we accept the call to come to the Vineyard, we do so and we are changed.

  • We are all equal in God’s eyes - not matter how good of a Christian we might think we are. We are all given the same grace, the same forgiveness, and the same worth by God through the life and love of Jesus Christ.

  • The person who has received the mercy and forgiveness of God will have the deepest sense of thankfulness for the new life he or she has received and in turn will extend mercy and forgiveness to others as a natural response.

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