Summary of passage: Jesus gives a parable to illustrate the kingdom of heaven and his principle he had just stated in the previous verse of the last being first. He tells the story of a landowner who hired workers for his fields. He hired workers all throughout the day, promising them one denarius for their labor for that day.
At the end of the day, the landowner hands out the wages. He pays all the men the same, whether they worked all day or only one hour of the day. Those who had worked all day began to grumble against the landowner for they felt they had borne the majority of the work. But the landowner says they all agreed to work for one denarius and since it is his money, he can do with it as he pleases. Due to his generosity, the last is first.
7a) This parable is an illustration of how in God’s kingdom the last will be first and the first will be last for the landowner paid the last ones hired first and he paid them the same amount for less work. It also shows the reward (denarius) and how God’s rewards are not like man’s rewards.
b) It shows God’s grace, which is a gift from God and we don’t have to earn it. It shows how the person who comes to God at the end of life enjoys the same benefits as life-long followers of Jesus and being jealous of that can only rob us of the joy God has given us throughout our entire lives. God is in control and ultimately decides who gets what and we are not to question His judgement nor to worry about others.
Some scholars also say this illustrates the dawning of the Gospel, how it all started with John the Baptist, Jesus, Pentecost, Jews, and then the Gentiles.
c) The older brother and the men who worked all day have the same attitude: they deserve more because they worked harder and obeyed and did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and those who disobeyed and barely worked are receiving the same. They both fail to grasp God’s grace: His promises are for all and His rewards are for all.
d) Personal Question. My answer: We and they don’t deserve anything but hell. It’s well to keep that in mind when we all have a tendency to become jealous of others or think we are better than others because of what we have done. God’s grace alone is what saves us.
e) Personal Question. My answer: No matter how evil people are or how twisted their earthly life may have been God will forgive and welcome them if only they believe. We here on Earth want justice and consequences and ours is not God’s. We would say they don’t deserve heaven. God says they do. Our ways are not His ways. God’s grace is amazing in that way. We don’t deserve Him yet for some reason, He wants us and gives us a way to be with Him. And for that we should all be grateful.
Conclusions: I love this story! I wanted to spend all of Lesson 21 on it! It is such a clear picture of how God’s ways are not our own, of God’s fairness and justice, and of God’s grace that it is humbling for us who do God’s will to remember God is for everyone no matter their sins against us. And when judgment arises, we need to remember God judges and we are to love. Period.
End Notes: The marketplace was where day-laborers gathered with all their tools, hoping to be hired. Early in the morning was probably dawn. A denarius was the going rate at that time for a day’s pay.
The landowner went every 3 hours to the marketplace. So assuming dawn was 6 am, the third hour would be 9 am, the sixth hour would be noon, and the eleventh hour would have been about 5 pm.
Note the landowners surprise to find workers. During harvest time, it was a race against time to get the crops in and yet some are still standing idle.
Spurgeon applies this to all of us: why should any of us be standing around idle when we have God’s work to do? He has hired us to do a job and we need to be doing it!
The early workers expected more after seeing the late workers get paid a denarius. How many times do we expect more (especially from others) and our hopes are dashed, leaving us feeling offended, slighted, wounded, and hurt feelings?
The phrase “evil eye” in some editions and not in the NIV which is translated as envious means the same thing. “Evil eye” was used by the ancient Jews to denote a jealous person. I just found this fascinating. The expression also means in many cultures that a look can bring misfortune upon someone. It is a belief held by most cultures as far back as Classical antiquity (recorded times) so presumably further than that.
Fascinating history of the “evil eye” HERE
I’ve always heard this as “to give someone the evil eye”, which means to look at someone in a mean or angry way. Fascinating how expressions and meanings change over time (and not change over time)!
God reserves the right to be more than fair and more generous to others. He is always fair but to some He blesses more. That is His divine right as God. We are to look at this as a blessing to us as well for we are all one body, doing His work.
Everything is under God’s grace. It is through His grace that we: are alive. Are given His calling. Are given the ability to do His calling. Are given the opportunity to do His will. Are given success at doing His will. Are forgiven, made righteous, and receive eternal life. All God’s grace. Everything.