The Vineyard Owner . . . Part I

The Laborer

Rev. Sudha Mehta©

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vineyard 5

Matthew 20:1“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2  He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

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3 About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4‘You also go into my vineyard,’ he said, ‘and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went.

He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing.

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6 About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ he asked.

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7‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

So he told them, ‘You also go into my vineyard.’

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8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, starting with the last ones hired and moving on to the first.’

9 The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. 10 So when the original workers came, they assumed they would receive more. But each of them also received a denarius.

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11 On receiving their pay, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.’

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13 But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Did you not agree with me on one denarius? 14Take your pay and go. I want to give this last man the same as I gave you. 15 Do I not have the right to do as I please with what is mine? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”(BSB)

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The story is pretty self explanatory, but the lessons it teaches are not necessarily so.

Vineyard owner needs harvesters. It is a daily laborers job. He goes to the marketplace where every morning (except on Shabbat) men gather. They come even before dawn looking for someone to hire them for the day so they can make some money to feed their families. I have seen these in India where I grew up. Those that need laborers for the day come in their vehicles and ask for however many workers they need. Noteworthy is the haggling that goes on for how much the men will be paid. I know this happens even in other countries.

Depending upon the job, the hirer will look for strong, young men that look like they will be efficient for speed, not need a lot of direction and be able to lift weight required. Nobody wants to hire workers that will be inefficient or lazy. The laborer wants to be paid, and the employer wants his money’s worth.

They haggle, the eager workers step up and go to the job. There are those that want to be paid more than being offered and they let go of the opportunity hoping someone else who may pay more will come along. It is a risk to take and sometimes when all the hirers have come and gone they find themselves without work and hence without money. 

Go home, better luck tomorrow . . . maybe they will haggle less and take whatever is offered. Often the haggling is more if the job is more labor intensive. Hirer and hiree interview each other. It is quite a scene, at times there is a frenzy for no one wants to be left behind without work, there are children to be fed at home.

Such was the scene in this story. A vineyard owner needed day laborers, day laborers needed work to earn money. The sum to be paid at the end of the day (12 hours) was settled. Everyone would be paid ONE denarius. He hired as many as he thought he needed and they went to the vineyard. Three hours later he was back, perhaps he miscalculated, he needed more help. Hired a few more. Three and six hours later . . .  repeated process. There was no agreement for a denarius with these, just that they would get fair wage. This meant they would accept less than those hired first.

We are not told why he was even in the area at the eleventh hour since the day was about done. There was no reason for him to be there, unless, he went to run another errand and happened to pass by. That makes sense to me. Regardless, he saw some men sitting twiddling their thumbs.

Why were they there at the eleventh hour? They were certainly not expecting to be hired a. Why did they not go home early and expect to try again the next day? Perhaps some did, but these did not. I wonder what their story was. Perhaps they just liked to hangout with their buddies for a while . . . no hurry . . . the wife wasn’t expecting them yet. Perhaps loitering was better than facing things at home. The unavoidable disappointment on the faces of the children and the wife would happen anyway. Better to face that later than sooner. 

Whatever the reason, these were still there when the vineyard owner came by. He felt sorry, I am sure. At this point there was little reason to hire, but he did anyway. He could have just offered them some money at this hour if he felt sorry for them and shown himself as a charitable benefactor . . . why didn’t he?

I think he understood the dignity of a man. These men would feel much better if they had “earned” the money, not just taken a “handout.” They were able bodied and would not want to be treated as beggars. 

So, now hired, they went to the vineyard and got to work. But not for long! The day is over and they all lined up for the wages. 

Surely these latecomers were not expecting to be paid a full days wages. They had only worked an hour or less (including tranportation time). However, the dignity of a man says better to take something home that is well earned than nothing. A fraction of a denarius would be better than no denarius. The wife would understand. The children would at least have a meal, however meager. Tomorrow would be better.

Hope built . . . perhaps tomorrow this same man would hire them again. 

Then the surprise!

They were first in line to be paid. No time card to punch or stamp. No separate line for those who had arrived at 6.00am . . . or 9am . . . or 12.00pm . . . or 3.00pm or the eleventh hour.

Just one line starting in reverse order. Some looked much more tired than others, no matter. One line please. 

“One denarius for you. Shalom my friend.”

“Next . . .”

“One denarius for you. Get some rest.”

“Next . . . “

“One denarius for you . . . be there early morning tomorrow so you can work again for me.”

Each of them got paid the same amount. 

All who worked less than all day had a bonus amount, some more than others, but the ones who worked the full day and received the amount agreed upon (one denarius) were the ones that had a problem with it.  They could tolerate that those who came at the 3rd, 6th or 9th hour got the same  . . . at least the scorching sun was scorching on them as well. . . but, the ones that came for just one hour . . . pleeeease! So unfair!! They hardly worked! 

“Unfair!!” they cried.

I might feel the same way in their shoes!

But the owner had a point, didn’t he?

A deal was a deal. They got the money they haggled for, no one was really cheated. A denarius was considered a fair wage for a days labor.

But the complaint was made!

Consider this resolution:

1: The vineyard owner could raise everyone’s pay proportionately. If the last ones got a whole denarius, then with this reasoning the first laborers would end up with 12 denarii for the day’s work. Well . . . they would be the highest paid in the whole region! 

Think for a minute, if they got 12 denarii for a day making it 12 times more than they agreed . . . why would this owner hire them again the next day?! He would declare them greedy and would never bring them in again. Word would get out they were greedy . . . so, no one else would want to hire them either. That 12 denarai would have to last a long time, and they would have to learn a lot of humility before some one would hire them, and they would have to agree to reasonable wages . . . a denarius a day. What a conundrum!!

2: Another possible resolution to the complainant would have been to give the latecomers a 12th of a denarius for the labor they put in . . . but then all those who worked less than the full 12 hours would need their money adjusted as well. 

Now if the last ones got only 1 /12th of a denarius, and the others proportionately less as well . . . it may provide a better solution, but if you are the employer and the money owner, would you want a dayworker to define your Company’s monetary policy? Would you want a day worker to tell you how to run your business? If he tried, would you hire him again?

If you wanted to show mercy and gift someone with some money, should that not be your decision? Perhaps this Vineyard owner knew that 1/12th of a denarius couldn’t buy a loaf of bread. Perhaps he understood what it takes for a man to feed his family.

I may be wrong, but I think he also understood a man’s desire to not feel humiliated bringing home just 1/12th of a denarius. He might have done better begging! Perhaps he wanted these men to save face at home, see their wives welcome them with a smile, and see the children go to bed with their tummies full, not empty. 

Is there anything wrong with that? I think not! The man showed mercy, and that was his right. he cheated no one . . . no one at all.

 The age old issue is that of grumbling, murmering and in general not knowing satisfaction in life. Jealousy, competition, coveting what someone else has, complaining about unfairness in life, and in general always finding the grass greener on the otherside are common among complainers.

Should you try to better yourself, of course you should! Should you do so because you are envious of others . . . NO!!

1 Timothy 6: 6 Of course, godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, so we cannot carry anything out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. In the kingdom of heaven there is no room for jealousy and covetousness. (BSB)

Hebrews 13:5 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, for God has said:“Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.” 6 So we say with confidence: “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”(BSB)

Let this be the reminder for today. 

Blessings to you all.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. akn71 says:

    Very good article Mom.


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