Saturday, September 17, 2016

The workers in the vineyard

Many of Jesus' parables were similar to stories that his listeners, the Jews, were familiar with, but with a twist.
For example, he gave an illustration called "The workers in the vineyard". You can find it in your Bible at Matthew 20:1-14:

“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 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."

 Alfred Edersheim's The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah is one of my favorite tools on the details surrounding life in Jesus' day. It is over 100 years old, long out of copyright, so if you persist, you can usually find a free online copy of it, but it keeps moving. Just Google "Edersheim free online". 
Anyway, regarding this parable, here is Edersheim's nugget:
"The Jews already had a parable about a king who had a vineyard, and engaged many laborers to work in it. But the Jewish story went like this: 

"A king hired several workers to spend the day in his vineyard. When the king looked out over the work in the second hour, he noticed one of the workers was distinguished above the rest by his labor and skill. So the king took him by the hand, and walked up and down in the shade with him, chatting until evening. At the end of the day, when the laborers were paid, this one received the same wages as the others, just as if he had worked in the sun the whole day. At this the others murmured, because he who had worked only two hours had received the same as they who had labored the whole day. The king replied: 'Why do you murmur? This man has by his skill earned as much in two hours as you did during the whole day.'

"It will be observed that, with all its similarity of form, the moral of the Jewish parable is in exactly the opposite direction from the teaching of Christ: reward earned by labors, rather than being a gift." 

Feel free to leave a polite comment.
 Bill K. Underwood is the author of several books, all available at You can help support this site by purchasing a book.

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