The Burden and Heat of the Day

A couple weeks ago we began the official start of Summer, with July and August typically being the hottest months of the year. Considering this, perhaps it would be timely to examine the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. From looking at the beginning of the text, it is clear that the parable serves at least two purposes. Matthew 19 ends with the words, "But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first." (Matt. 19:30) The first verse of chapter 20 then tells us that this is a parable of the Kingdom of Heaven. Sometimes we may get the idea that working in the heat of the day for the Lord is a burden. Perhaps examining this text will help us resist that temptation.

As the parable opens, we read of a householder who went out early to hire laborers for his vineyard. Later he is known as the goodman of the house. The first thing we see from the story is that the man is not lazy. He doesn't wait until the afternoon to find workers. He goes early to find those who will work for him (Matt. 20:1). He knows what he is seeking, and goes to where he can find it. Like the man, if we think of God, didn't He send His Son to seek us as well (Luke 19:10)?

The householder converses with his potential laborers. Verse 2 speaks of him agreeing with the laborers for a penny a day. In the text it reads, "he had agreed with the laborers..." The word translated as "agreed" is derived from a Greek word that can mean harmonious. It lends itself to the idea of there being a mutual decision between himself and the workers. But what about the penny? Isn't a penny almost worthless to us? It maybe, but from the text we can understand that the man is going to pay those in the field a reasonable wage for a soldier and a day laborer. So not only do we find an agreed upon service, but also a proper amount to be paid in compensation for the work. Doesn't God always give us the things we need in our labor for Him (Luke 10:1-11)?

As we continue through the parable, we can observe how the householder continually calls for more laborers. He doesn't just seek them out once. He comes again, and again, and again. He seeks them out at the third hour, the sixth, the ninth, and even the eleventh hour of the day (Vv. 3-7). In contrast to that, what about all the times that we have not sought God? How many times have we shunned God and resisted seeking Him (Rom. 3:11)? We resist God so readily. After all that though, the fact that He still seeks people to worship Him in spirit and in truth is remarkable (John 4:24).

After the work day is done, the man then commands his stewards to call the laborers. The stewards are instructed to pay the workers from the last to the first (Vs. 8). This specific ordering seems peculiar to us, maybe even wrong, but it is referred to multiple times (Matt. 19:30, 20:16). Being the householder, it is his prerogative to decide what order the workers are paid. The command is followed.

While the order of payment is decided solely by the householder, the amount paid to the laborers is mutually agreed upon. This is the right amount (Vs. 7). Despite this, the workers that had borne the burden and heat of the day murmured against the goodman of the house (Vv. 9-12).

This showcases at least a few problems. First, it seems that the laborers had forgotten their previously agreed upon wage for the day (Vs. 2). God paid a great price for our salvation. Let's remember that, and also the expectations we agreed to when we became Christians. Second, it shows that those of the first thought that they deserved more because they had worked longer than the last (Vs. 10). This is contrary to esteeming others better than ourselves (Phil. 2:3). Not only did they think that they deserved more than those who were last, but is it possible that they actually wished that the last were given less than them? This final possibility should concern us. Have we ever had ill will toward someone because they were blessed? This is surely not loving one's neighbor as oneself.

Notice how these three things all focus on the self. They say nothing about the householder's right to pay all who labored a good wage (Vv. 13-15). May we also think on Lord and all the good He has done as we labor through the heat of the day. He will give us the right amount.