Parable are short, simple stories that Lord Jesus Christ recounted to the common people. They are characterized by not only their apparent simplicity but also the significant messages they convey.
The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard features in the Gospel of Mathew. The parable is recounted in Mathew 20: 1-16.
Jesus explained the nature of the Kingdom of God, thus: A landowner set out at daybreak to find workers for his vineyard. He hired some workers for one denarius a day and sent them into the vineyard to work. At the third hour, he saw some workers sitting idle in the marketplace and asked them to go to his vineyard and promised them a fair wage. This happened again at the sixth hour and the ninth hour. At the eleventh hour, he saw some more people and asked them why they were idling. They replied that no one was ready to hire them. The landowner sends them to his vineyard.
When it was evening, the landlord called his bailiff and asked him to distribute the wages, starting with the workers, who joined last and ended with the first. So, the ones, who came last received a Denarius each. The ones who came first to work expected more, but also received only one denarius. The latter started grumbling saying that they had worked the whole day but got wages equal to the ones who joined last.
The landlord addressed these grumbling men and said, “Didn’t we agree on one denarius as your wage, so take your wages and go. It is my choice to pay the late comers as much as you all. Don’t I have the right to do what I like with my wealth? You have no need to be jealous because of my generosity. Thus, the last will become first and the first, last.”
In this parable, Jesus was hinting that the Pharisees, who claimed closeness to God and more hardworking for the kingdom of God will be envious of those who came last in the kingdom (Gentiles) but received the same blessings. Jesus means that no matter when you repent, the reward for all is equal- that of eternal life. This means that the thief who was crucified along with Christ and repented for his sins would get an eternal life as much as the apostle Paul.
The Denarius was the common daily wage for labour in the time of Jesus. The day starts at 6 am and the eleventh hour is the time between 4 am and 5 am. The workers mentioned in the parable are poor men who worked as temporary farm hands during the harvest season. The landlord is aware that the poor workers need at least a Denarius to feed their families.
This parable focuses on the ‘unmerited’ grace of God much like the love of the father for his son in the parable of the Prodigal son. The parable mainly stresses that we are saved by not by our worthiness but his abundant grace.