Matthew 20

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Verse 1: For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. (NIV)

  • No other gospel records this parable.
  • This parable should be taken in context. It opens with “for” and refers back to the end of the previous chapter.
    • His disciples were asking about their rewards for leaving everything.
    • Jesus wanted to make sure his disciples weren't expecting special treatment because they signed up early.
    • The two references to “first-last” “last-first” serve as bookends to this passage.
  • This was the normal way of hiring someone on a short term.
    • People would be in the market and early in the morning employers would come and hire them. It could be for one day or a regular thing.
    • Also, if an employer didn't show up by noon it was not likely that they would at all.
    • That the owner needs more workers is evidence that it was harvest time and so more workers were needed (Blomberg 302).
  • These men were probably the best workers, as they were the ones who were there on time.
  • This probably happened around 6:00 AM, just as daylight hit.


Verse 2: He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. (NIV)

  • It appears that the workers had some say in their wages. It says “after they agreed” on the wage.
  • A Denarius was the standard daily wage for a laborer of that day. It was the primary silver Roman coin of that time.
  • ”For the day” not only references the pay, but also indicates that the worker would only be hired this one day (Nicoll 253).


Verse 3: About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. (NIV)

  • This would be nine in the morning.
  • The phrasing here is not that the men were being lazy, but that they did not have work (Nicoll 253). They were still looking for work.


'Verse 4: He told them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right. (NIV)

  • The owner does not promise a specific wage to those he picks up later, but just “what is fair”. To the workers, this would have been the day's wage, minus the time they didn't work.
    • This is about completely different ideas of what is fair.
    • At the end, the owner isn't giving more than he thinks is right or fair. He is giving according to a different scale of justice completely.
  • There is purposeful mystery here as Jesus does not mention a price that these men, or any following them, would receive for their work until the end.


Verse 5: So they went. “He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. (NIV)

  • This would be noon and three in the afternoon.


'Verse 6: About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, 'Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing? (NIV)

  • Unlike the other encounters, this verse begins with “but” indicating that it is surprising that the master is even hiring at this hour (Nicoll 253).
  • The owner here is actively seeking people out to help. He repeatedly comes down and seeks out people when it wasn't expected.
  • The time would have been around 5:00 PM, with just an hour left of work (Blomberg 302).
  • There doesn't seem to be a limit on the amount of work the owner has for people to do.
    • The owner does not appear to be looking for a specific amount of workers, but looking for anyone who is willing to work.
  • This phrase contains some rebuke in it, because they had been idle all day (Newman 616). Presumably, there is something wrong that the workers had not been hired earlier, but all is forgiven.


Verse 7: Because no one has hired us,' they answered. “He said to them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard. (NIV)

  • These men waiting are probably slackers, but just haven't been hired.
    • They were not at as punctual, or perhaps their other job had ended early.
    • However, they remain even to the end looking for work, that is persistence of another sort. To stand hoping for work even to the very last hour is having a deep need and desire for a job.
  • Originally, the latecomers were identified with “tax collectors and sinners” (Blomberg 304). This might be a good reason why Matthew includes this parable.


'Verse 8: “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first. (NIV)

  • There is not direct indication that the owner paid them, but that the foreman did. However, the owner was obviously nearby.
  • ”Foreman” here is the person who was put in charge of the workers (Newman 616).
  • Paying people every day is completely normal, and even expected, for itinerate day laborers.


Verse 9: “The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. (NIV)

  • The late workers did not get more than they were told they would, no one was. They got exactly what they signed up for.
  • The owner seems to be unnecessarily rubbing his generosity in the early worker's face, but I don't think so.
    • The later workers probably get hired less in general and so need the money worse, possibly even to buy food that evening. The early workers probably have more money from other days.
    • Primarily, though, this story needs to be remembered as a fictional story Jesus made up to tell a point, and that point (different ways of judging worth) are brought home by staging the payment in this order.
    • It is simply more dramatic and makes more sense for the point of Jesus' parable.


Verse 10: So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. (NIV)

  • This story was told to surprise people, to have a sudden ending and make people a little jumpy.
  • The workers expected rewards based on what they did. The owner rewarded them just because of who they were, his workers.
    • There is an obvious parallel here to us. We want rewards based on what we do, but God rewards because of who we are, his beloved children.
    • Just because our flawed system of fairness says we deserve something, or don't deserve something, doesn't mean that is what will happen.
      • God regularly gives us far more than we think we deserve.
      • God also sometimes gives us less than we think we should get based on what we have done.


Verse 11: When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. (NIV)

  • The early workers did not complain when the other people got paid. They had a problem when they got paid. They thought they would get more. Generosity is not the problem with giving to others. But they had their own ideas of what they should be getting. *The early workers seem to have a case if we base their wages off what they earned through their labor.
    • So either the owner (God) is not being fair, or he is being generous to the late workers but not the early, or he is paying based on a different reason than effort.
    • I think that God is paying based on different criteria than we are expecting to receive. Here the owner seems to be paying based on them just being his hired workers, their very position.


Verse 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 of the work and the heat of the day. (NIV)

  • The best workers probably got hired early. They have the skills, they are on time, they're the best. So they were probably proud about their skills and wanted more money.
  • There is no implication that anyone did less than work their entire time. None of these were slackers, some simply had longer to work than others.


Verse 13: “But he answered one of them, 'Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? (NIV)

  • ”One of them” probably indicates a particular person who was being the loudest (Newman 619), but should be taken to mean all those in general who objected.
  • ”Friend” is not a friendly term here. It is a term that is a mild reproach; it puts distance in between the owner and the workers (Blomberg 304).
  • The actual amount is not the main point of the story. The main point is the master, and why the master is doing this.
  • This passage has often been applied to eternity and taken to mean that there are no degrees of rewards in heaven.


Verse 14: Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. (NIV)

  • This parable frankly isn't fair according to our standards.
    • But if we claim out for justice in life from God, we are idiots. We have sinned, we have insulted and hurt God so much. We don't want to be judged according to our actions.
    • If we are smart we want grace, we want to be judged just on that we are a child of God not on what we do.


'Verse 15: Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous? (NIV)

  • Money is not mentioned here literally, just “my things” which here indicates money (Blomberg 304).
  • We are not needed here to define what is good and just. We are needed here to help further God's idea of what justice is.
  • This does not appear to be a one time event. Jesus seems to be saying this is the way life works when we work for him.
  • Most versions translate the end of this verse as “are you jealous because I am generous.”
    • But it literally reads “is your eye evil because I am good?”
    • It's about a way of looking at the world. Are they willing to be evil just because God is being good?


Verse 16: “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (NIV)

  • Rank is made to be irrelevant here. This verse reinforces that the order we make to justify our pride or glory in our humility are useless.
  • Expositor's Greek Testament suggests that this parable's main point is that God does not go with a legal spirit that works on contract and hope for reward.
    • The early workers had a contract, and when they saw others didn't they got upset.
    • The later workers just worked, trusting the owner would provide generously.
    • The owner honored that trust, and didn't like the grasping and untrusting nature of the early workers.
  • This doesn't mention what happens the next day. Do the later workers show up early? Do the early workers show up later the next day to “get back” at the owner? We don't know.


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