Matthew 20 compares the kingdom of heaven unto laborers in a vineyard. At 6:00 in the morning, the Lord of the vineyard chose, out of many looking for work, several that he would employ for that day. A penny wage was agreed upon, and they were sent into the vineyard. Three hours later, at 9:00, the Lord found and hired others who had just been standing idle in the marketplace. These too went into the vineyard, and this was repeated again at 12:00 noon and at 3:00 in the afternoon. After all hope seemed lost, a final few (all those remaining?) were employed at 5:00, only an hour before the workday was over. Astonishingly, all who labored received a penny, whether they had been hired first or last.
Naturally, the comparative ratio of wages earned to hours worked seems unfair. Those hired in the morning complained, exclaiming that surely they ought to have been paid more for their 12 hours of work than those who only put in a mere 1 hour in the vineyard. The Lord wisely remarks that they all agreed upon a penny, and a penny they did each receive for their hard work.
Put yourself in the shoes of one of these laborers. Each morning you arise, unsure of whether or not you’ll be able to feed your family that day. You gather in the marketplace well before 6:00 am, trying to secure a spot in front where you’ll perhaps stand out to seeking employers. You may not be the strongest or tallest or best fit man, yet you must do what you can. Perhaps you haven’t been chosen in several days, and your family is starving. If at 6:00 you are not hired, or even 9:00, surely you would be panicking by now. Discouraged, would you even stay in the marketplace? By noon, nearly all employers have hired what they need for they day, and it’s unlikely that any would come back. Yet, imagining the disappointed faces of your children when you return home without bread keeps you there. You wait, and suppose you’re not hired until 5:00. Would that not be the hardest hour you’ve ever worked, as if to show some sort of gratitude to the Lord of the vineyard?
Or suppose you were hired at 6:00 am. Maybe you’re the fit one that always gets hired, and you took it for granted. At first you were relieved, but as the day progressed and the sun beating down on you got hotter, perhaps you lost sight of why you were out there working. Maybe the guy next to you was annoyingly whistling or speaking crudely, and you let your hostility get in the way of the task before you. Maybe you felt lonely out in your section of the vineyard. Did you cease working? Did you take a break, or work only when the Lord was watching? I think a lot about those who had been in the vineyard for a while, and just what those long hours were like. I am sure that there were some inexperienced workers who had no idea what they were doing. Did they have to be humble and teachable enough to accept help from the Lord? Or maybe not the Lord Himself, but more likely a fellow worker was there to guide the unlearned. I can imagine that some workers made mistakes and harmed the vines. But I cannot imagine the sight of any workers being cast out of the vineyard because of their imperfections. There may have been some who pridefully rejected the process or the work that the Lord was suggesting, and walked out on their own.
Whatever the circumstance, every laborer was there for essentially the same reason: to get money so that they could provide for themselves or for their family. Just like the vineyard, the kingdom of heaven does not only host those cookie-cutter people or families who we’d assume to be hired at 6:00 in the morning. No, there are no perfect people or families. We’re all simply just God’s beloved, waking up each morning to do our very best. That’s all He asks of us, and to those who labor (peacefully among each other, may I add), though imperfectly, are given the promised penny.