Matthew 20: 1-16
"For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o'clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.' So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o'clock, he did the same. And about five o'clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, 'Why are you standing here idle all day?' They said to him, 'Because no one has hired us.' He said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard.' When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, 'Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.' When those hired about five o'clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, 'These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.' But he replied to one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?' So the last will be first, and the first will be last."
The Generosity of God
he parable of Mt 20:1-16 originally ended at v 15 and the key to it is the last phrase of that verse: 'because I am generous.' It is this generosity that explains the apparently capricious conduct of the householder. For, indeed, at first sight, it does seem unfair that all the workers were to receive the same wage. But when we understand his motive we judge his conduct very differently. A denarius represented a day's wage, just enough to support a family; anything less, and especially payment for a single hour, would be inadequate. It is because he had pity on them that the owner called them to the vineyard in the first place, and it is because he has pity on them that he pays them all, the full wage. There is nothing arbitrary in his conduct - it is the action of a man who is full of compassion. So, too, does God act, for God is all goodness and mercy. This is the message of the parable.
But if we look again we see that it is two-tiered, that it is made up of two episodes. First we have the hiring of the labourers and instruction about their payment (vv 1-8), and then follows the indignation of the recipients who feel themselves cheated (vv 9-15). It is characteristic of such parables that the emphasis falls on the second part. Because that is so here, we should realise that the parable is aimed at people who resemble the murmurers. The fact is: God is not 'fair'! The parable shows what God is like, full of compassion for the poor - and for sinners, poorest of the poor. It points out how wrong-headed it is to be scandalised by his great goodness. Matthew is hitting at some 'begrudgers’ within his community. God's prodigal goodness is an affront to human level-headedness. God's love of sinners is an insult to the pious.
This is the Story of Jesus drawn from the four Evangelists
Gospel passages accompanied by a number of brief commentaries