Matthew 20: “Parable of the Vineyard Workers”


Let’s start by reading The Parable of the Vineyard Workers from the Message.

Matthew 20:1-12 (MSG) 


Okay so up to this point in the story you’re probably thinking, this is okay. Its not bad that he is paying the last first because it shouldn’t be hard to calculate how long they worked and how little they should get.

Now if you’re the guys who started at 5am, and you see the guys who showed up at 5pm get the same amount, what are you thinking?

You might think they were getting mad, but maybe the truth is they were getting excited. Maybe they were seeing the land owner raising his wages and by the time they get to you at the end of the line you are going to make way more than a $1. Shoot, the guys who showed up an hour ago got a $1 and I started earning my $1 at 5am in the morning.

So the people who started earlier were probably getting excited, but as we will read, this is not how the story ends.

Matthew 20:12-15 (MSG)

  • So looking at this in order, how is this whole thing shaking out?
    • The 5am crew is getting angry

Don’t be fooled by this next question.

  • Who is the 5am crew yelling at?
    • The manager
  • Who answers the disgruntled workers complains?
    • The owner of the vineyard (This will be important later)


Hiring Practices During this Time

A manager, or foreman would go into the nearby town and find guys, literally men, standing around waiting for people to show up so they can be hired to work. These guys would go to the field and work gladly because it meant that they would earn a full days wage for their work. Basically, if they didn’t get hired all day, they wouldn’t be able to provide for their family that day and probably meant their family wouldn’t eat.


If you remember our reading from yesterday, there’s a connection between Jesus’ instructions to the Rich Young Ruler and the disciples.

Matthew 19:23-30 (NLT)


(19:30) 30 But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.

What does all of this mean?

Here’s a quick breakdown of what our parable means…

  • Who is the estate manager in the story?
    • Jesus
  • Who does he call?
    • Believers and Non-Believers alike
  • How often does He go to get workers?
    • Up until the final hour
  • What is the final hour?
    • Judgement day
  • What does everyone get paid?
    • The same amount
  • In understanding God and his generosity, what do we receive even though we don’t deserve it?
    • Grace
  • So if the payment is grace then who will be more grateful?
    • The people who were last

Think about the implications that are very evident here. How many times have you known people, good “Christian” people who are upset when people get extra or better treatment.

  • Society tells us you have to put in your time, Jesus tells us, the last will be first.
  • Society tells us if you work harder you’ll get rewarded better, Jesus tells us, that’s not up to you.

In fact, he says, “Can’t I do what I want with my own money?”

  • Society tells us that the first will be first and the last will be last, but Jesus tells us that the last will be first, and the first will be last.

At the end of the day we are challenged to make a choice. Listen to Jesus who extends grace to the most unlikely of people, or listen to society and allow ourselves to be tainted by a view that doesn’t include grace.