10. The fruit of faith, 19:1-20:34

iii] The parable of the workers, 20:1-16


Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. In the context of his encounter with a rich young man who is struggling with his eternal standing, and the follow-up discussion with his disciples who are only too willing to point out their outstanding self-sacrifice, as compared to the young man, Matthew uses the kingdom parable of The Laborers in the Vineyard to illustrates the point that it is in God's nature to make the last in line first.


The dawning kingdom of heaven is like the situation where a landowner graciously pays his workers in full, irrespective of the work they have done. The new age of the kingdom is all about receiving, not doing. Believers do well to emulate the Master's gracious mercy.


i] Context: See 19:1-15. Matthew has carefully placed the parable of the workers in the vineyard immediately after Jesus' encounter with the rich young ruler. The two episodes are tied together by the saying "many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first", a saying which Matthew uses at the end of the parable to underline the point he wants to draw from the parable.


ii] Structure: This passage, The parable of the workers, presents as follows:

God's rewards, v1-16:

Parable, v1-15:

Saying, v16:

"the last will be first and the first last."


iii] Interpretation:

Since the immediacy of the kingdom is always the focus of a kingdom parable, the focus of this parable is on the 12th hour - the paying out of the workers in an unexpected way, a way that reverses the norm. The inauguration / realization of the kingdom is both good news / blessing and bad news / cursing, and now is the hour for both. This then is the parable's message in its original context. Yet, as with Matthew's use of the kingdom parable The Unforgiving Servant, we again have a kingdom parable used as an illustration for a teaching purpose, which purpose is defined by v16, "the last will be first and the first last", cf., 19:30. Matthew wants the children of grace to recognize that in the kingdom the workers receive God's abundant grace irrespective of what they have done; he wants them to have the same mind / eye as Christ, to be gracious as the Father is gracious. Don't be like the grumbling workers in the field for in God's reckoning it is the last in line who are first.

If the rich young ruler learns anything from his encounter with Jesus, 19:16-26, it is that covenant compliance, and thus the full appropriation of the promised blessing to Abraham, is not a matter of doing. The young man is confronted with the reality that doing is not going to work. Peter misses the whole point with his "we have left everything and followed you", v27. Yes indeed, the disciples have done well, but the eternal blessings that are theirs in Christ are given, not earned, v28-29. The point Matthew draws from the parable of the workers in the field is that in the face of the immediacy of the coming kingdom its all about grace. So, beware of the path of piety, for in the face of the coming kingdom it is the sinner who is blessed, not the (self)righteous.

Within the context of compassion in Christian community, this parable serves as a paradigm for acceptance and forgiveness. As God is like a landowner who pays his workers in full, irrespective of the work they have done, so his children, the last made first, should have the same gracious mind / eye, seeking always to make the last first.


Form: See "Kingdom parables", 13:24-30. The introductory words to this parable, "the kingdom of heaven is like (may be compared to the situation where ...)", indicates that we have here another kingdom parable, and as such a gospel proclamation in the form of a riddle which concerns the immediacy of the kingdom of heaven / God - "the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the gospel." This approach to kingdom parables was developed by C.H. Dodd in his book The Parables of the kingdom. Conservative scholars who have questioned his realized eschatology have tended to articulate an inaugurated eschatology, although a now / not yet perspective is probably better. Either way, a kingdom parable announces that the kingdom is at hand.


iv] Synoptics:

This parable is unique to Matthew. Some commentators have suggested that it is redactional, ie., Matthew's own creation. This is very unlikely as it would have been far more appropriate to create a teaching parable to illustrate the truth drawn from the rich young ruler incident, namely, that "many who are first will be last, and the last first." Using a kingdom parable that doesn't quite fit and originally had a different purpose (evangelistic), indicates that Matthew used the best of what he had at hand. The use of kingdom parables (gospel riddles) for a didactic purpose is unique to Matthew.


v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 20:1

God's rewards: i] The parable of the workers in the field, v1-15. The kingdom of heaven is like the situation where a landowner hires workers for his vineyard.

gar "for" - for. Here as a connective; serving as a link to the episode of the Rich Young Ruler, and its immediate tie, the warning in 19:30. The parable reinforces the new situation now emerging in the person and work of Christ; "Jesus continued by saying...", TH.

oJmoia adj. "like" - compare, like. "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to the situation where a landowner hires workers for his fields."

anqrwpw/ oikodespoth/ dat. "a landowner" - to a man, a master of a house, a landowner. Dative after oJmoia of person's or things compared. "A farmer", Phillips.

aJma prwi "early in the morning" - at once in the morning. Preposition + an adverb, functioning as a noun; "at dawn", Moule. A good time to hire workers since they will then work for the whole day.

misqwsasqai (misqow) aor. inf. "to hire" - The infinitive forms a final adverbial clause expressing purpose, "in order to hire"; "to work in his vineyard", Barclay.

ergataV (hV ou) "men" - workmen. "Laborers".

eiV + acc. "for [his vineyard]" - Possibly expressing advantage, as NIV, or simply spacial, "in order to hire workers to go into his vineyard."


He agrees on their pay before they start work. A normal day's work is 10 hours, and the pay of a denarius is the normal wage for a foot soldier, or day-laborer.

sumfwnhsaV (sumfonew) aor. part. "agreed" - having agreed. The participle is adverbial, possibly temporal, "after agreeing ...", NRSV.

meta + gen. "-" - with [the workers]. Expressing association.

ek + gen. "-" - out of, from = for [a denarius]. Here serving only to introduce a genitive of price rather than express source etc.

thn hJmeran (a) "for the day" - the day. Here "a whole day." Their pay was set at one denarius, the usual day's pay for a workman.


Hiring of the laborers proceeds, v3-7. The hours of hiring in our story are 6.00 am, 9.00 am, 12.00 noon, 3.00 pm and 5.00 pm. The first group of men is promised a denarius each. The second group is promised "whatever is right". The last group is hired an hour before sunset. The King James version states they were standing around "idle", but that is not what the text says. They were standing around because "no one has hired us." As was typical, casual laborers waited in the village market-place to be hired. What is not typical is the way the landowner paid his workers.

peri + acc. "about" - around. An indefinite temporal use of the preposition; "around, about."

trithn wJran "the third hour" - third hour. The being about 9am.

exelqwn (exercomai) aor. part. "he went out" - Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "he saw", as NIV.

eJstwtaV (iJsthmi) perf. part. "standing" - The participle is adjectival, limiting "others"; "others who were standing ..." Possibly in the sense of "present in the marketplace".

en + dat. "in [the marketplace]" - Local; expressing space / sphere.

argouV adj. "doing nothing" - idle, not working, lazy. Day laborers not yet hired, so not really idle, but rather "waiting and available for hire."


ekeinoiV dat. pro. "[he told] them" - [he said] to them. Dative of indirect object.

uJeiV pro. "you" - The unnecessary use of this pronoun with uJagete, "you go", makes it emphatic.

kai "also" - and. Adjunctive, as NIV.

dwsw (didwmi) fut. "I will pay" - will give. "The wage I will give you will be whatever fairness demands", Cassirer.

umin dat. pro. "you" - to you. Dative of indirect object.

oJ ean + subj. "whatever [is right]" - if it = whatever [may be just]. Introducing a relative conditional clause 3rd. class where the condition has the possibility of coming true; "whatever, as may be the case, is just, then I will give to you" = "whatever is just I will give you." Given that a denarius (a Roman silver coin) was the daily wage for a laborer, the implication here is a proportionate pay for the time spent in the field; "pay you a fair wage", TEV.


aphlqon (apercomai) aor. "[so] they went" - [and] they left, went out. "So they went off to the vineyard", Barclay.

exelqwn (exercomai) aor. part. "he went out [again]" - having gone out [again]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "he did [likewise]."

eJkthn kai enothn adj. "the sixth and the ninth [hour]" - Representing "12 noon and 3pm."


peri + acc. "about" - Temporal use of the preposition.

thn endekathn adj. "the eleventh hour / five in the afternoon" - "5pm."

exelqwn (exercomai) aor. pas. "he went out" - going out. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "fount"; "went out and found."

euJren (euJriskw) aor. "found" - discover the whereabouts of something.

estwtaV (iJsthmi) perf. part. "standing around" - having stood. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting the pronoun allouV, "others", which is functioning as a substantive; "the others who were standing around."

autoiV dat. pro. "[he asked] them" - [he said] to them. Dative of indirect object.

ti "Why ...?" - The question is possibly in the form of a rebuke; "why are you wasting the whole day here doing nothing?", TEV.


oJti "because" - that. Here causal, as NIV.

autw/ dat. pro. "they answered" - [they say] to him. Dative of direct object.

emisqwsato (misqow) aor. "[no one] has hired [us]" - hired. "Hired us to work."

kai uJmeiV "you also" - and you. As in v4, an emphatic use of the pronoun; "you too go to my vineyard as well as the other workers."


Settling up, v8-12: Although those first hired received the payment promised, the late-comers received a denarius as well. Those first hired thought that they would be given a bonus of sorts since they had worked through the "heat of the day." They grumbled because they felt unfairly treated. It did not seem fair to them that those who worked much less received the same as those who worked much more.

genomenhV (ginomai) aor. mid. part. "when [evening] came" - having become. The genitive absolute participle serves to form a temporal clause, as NIV. Day labourers were paid at the end of the day, sunset.

oJ kurioV "the owner" - the lord. The property owner.

tou aJmelwnoV (oV) gen. "of the vineyard" - The genitive is adjectival, of subordination, limiting "the lord / master"; "the Lord over the vineyard" = "the owner of the vineyard."

tw/ epitropw/ (oV) dat. "foreman" - the steward. Dative of indirect object. The manager, foreman... the person in charge of the workers.

autoiV dat. pro. "[pay] them [their wages]" - [give the wages] to them. Dative of indirect object.

arxamenoV (ercomai) aor. mid. part. "beginning" - The participle is adverbial, probably modal, expressing the manner of the owners action. "Starting with those who were hired last", TEV.

e{wV + gen. "going on to [the first]" - Here spacial, rather than temporal, "up to"; "start with the last ones and go on to the first", Barclay.


oiJ "the workers who were hired" - the ones.

peri + acc. "about" - Temporal use of the preposition.

elqonteV (ercomai) aor. part. "came" - having come. They came to receive their wages. Possibly a temporal participle, "when ..... they came", Moffatt, or as NIV, attendant circumstance "came and .... received."

ana + acc. "each" - Here with a distributive sense; "each received a denarius apiece."

elabon (lambanw) aor. "received" - they received. "They got a shilling each", Moffatt.


elqonteV (ercomai) aor. part. "[so] when [those] came [who were hired first]" - [and] having come [the first ones]. The participle is adverbial, possibly temporal, as NIV; "but when the first came", AV.

enomisan (vomizw) "they expected" - they supposed, thought. "They assumed they would get more."

oJti "to [receive]" - that [they will receive more]. Introducing a dependent statement of perception expressing what they thought.

pleion adv. "more" - In the sense of "a larger sum."

kai "but" - and. Here somewhat adversative, as NIV.

kai autoi "each one of them" - also themselves. Again an emphatic use of the pronoun; "[but] they also [received each a denarius]" = "but they also received a day's wage", Barclay.

to "-" - The variant neuter article refers to the agreed wage; "but they received that which was agreed, namely one denarius."


de "-" - but, and. Slightly adversative; "but when they received it."

labonteV (lambanw) aor. part. "when they received it" - having received. The participle is adverbial, probably temporal, as NIV.

egogguzon (gogguzw) imperf. "they began to grumble" - they were complaining, murmuring, muttering. Imperfect indicating a continual muttering, or as NIV, inceptive; "they began complaining", CEV.

kata + gen. "against [the landowner]" - against [the master of the house, proprietor]. Expressing opposition: "they grumbled against the manager", Berkeley.


ou|toi pro. "these men / these who" - these. "These last fellows have only put in one hours work", Phillips.

oiJ escatoi adj. "who were hired last" - the ones last. This articular adjective forms a substantive phrase standing in apposition to "these".

legonteV (legw) "they said" - saying. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "they began to grumble", v11, or adverbial, modal, expressing manner, "saying, 'these men ....'"

hJmin dat. pro. "[equal] to us" - Dative of indirect object.

toiV bastasasi (bastazw) dat. aor. part. "who have borne" - the ones having borne, endured. The participle serves as a substantive introducing a substantival construction standing in apposition to "us"; "those who have borne the burden and heat of the day."

to baroV (oV ouV) "the burden" - the hardship, difficulty. "Sweated the whole day long in the blazing sun", REB.


The landowner has his say, v13-15: The workers are reminded that the landowner had acted justly. He paid what was agreed. As long as he acts justly he may do what he wishes with his money. Their grumbling comes from an "evil eye", or as the NIV puts it, "envy".

de "but" - but, and. Here probably adversative, as NIV.

apokriqeiV (apokrinomai) aor. pas. part. "[he] answered" - [he] answering. Attendant circumstance participle expressing accompanying the verb "he said"; "he answered and said to one of them."

eJni dat. adj. "one" - [said] to one [of them]. Dative of indirect object.

autwn gen. pro. "of them" - The genitive is adjectival, partitive.

etaire (etairoV) voc. sing. "friend" - a general address to someone where the name is unknown. eg. Australia "mate". "Listen friend", TEV.

ouk adikw (adikew) "I am not being unfair [to you]" - I am not harming [you]. "I have not cheated you", TEV.

ouci "didn't [you agree]" - did you not [make an agreement]. The negation used in this question indicates an answer in the affirmative. A negated question expecting a positive answer is always awkward in English and so a positive statement tends to convey the idea more simply, "I paid you exactly what we agreed on", CEV.

moi dat. pro. "-" - with me. The dative expresses accompaniment, as for the prepositions sun or meta.

dhnariou (on) gen. "for a denarius" - Genitive of price, expressing the value of; "for the usual day's wage", Barclay.


to sun "your pay" - the yours. The neuter articular adjective, "your", serves as a substantive, "that which belongs to you" = "your pay", that which was agreed, ie., one denarius.

uJpage (uJpagw) imp. "go" - depart. "Be off."

qelw "I want" - I will. Expressing a determination of the will, "It is my firm intention", TH.

dounai (didwmi) aor. inf. "to give" - The infinitive is usually classified as complementary, completing the sense of the verb "I will", although, since "I will" is a cognitive verb the infinitive may be classified as introducing a dependent statement of perception expressing what the master "willed / desired."

toutw/ tw/ escatw/ dat. adj. "the man who was hired last / the one who was hired last" - to this the last = to this last one. This adjectival construction stands as a substantive, dative of indirect object; "I will to give also as to you to this last one" = "it is my wish to give the one who came last the same as I gave you", Cassirer.

wJV "as [I gave you]" - as [also to you]. Comparative; "the same that I paid you", CEV.


h "-" - The first "or" is missing in some manuscripts. The meaning seems clearer without it which may have prompted its removal.

ouk "don't" - not. This negation in a question produces a positive answer.

exestin pres. "I have the right" - is it [not] right, lawful, allowed.

moi dat. pro. "-" - for me. Dative of interest, advantage.

poihsai (poiew) aor. inf. "to do" - The infinitive forms an infinitival clause subject of the verb "it is lawful"; "to do what I wish with my things is lawful for me" = "can I not do what I please with the things that belong to me?", Moffatt.

o} acc. pro. "what [I want]" - Introducing a substantival phrase object of the infinitive "to do."

en + dat. "with" - in, on. Here instrumental, expressing means.

toiV emoiV "my own money" - the things of me. Possibly "on my own land", but most translators opt for "with my own money."

oJ ofqalmoV sou ponhroV "[are] you envious" - [is] the eye of you wicked. Literally, "the evil eye".... so "jealous" or "envious." Possibly, "do you begrudge my generosity?", RSV.

oJti "because" - that. Usually taken as causal here; "or is that my being generous accounts for your having an envious nature?", Cassirer.

egw pro. "I [am]" - The pronoun is emphatic by use and position.

agaqoV adj. "generous" - good. The adjective "good" here is usually taken to mean "generous."


ii] A concluding saying which serves to apply the parable to the disciples, v16. This same saying, reversed, concludes Jesus' sayings on reward in the kingdom, 19:23-30, sayings integrally linked to v16-22, Jesus' discussion with the rich young ruler. There the saying is introduced by de, "but / and", and is most likely adversative, indicating that the saying is addressing the disciples' self-congratulation. The "young man" has come to realize that the gaining of covenant blessings does not depend on doing, whereas the disciples still think its about doing, and they have been doing very well, or so they think. The disciples, as with all believers in community, must recognize who they are, lost sinners, little ones made first. Then, with the mind of Christ, make others who are last first, graciously offing kindness irrespective of a person's works.

ouJtwV "so" - thus, so, in this way. Drawing a logical conclusion; "And Jesus concluded, So ....", TEV.

oiJ prwtoi adj. "the first" - the first ones. The adjective serves as a substantive. There have been numerous attempts to identify these "first ones", as with the "last ones." Identification tends to be in terms of "the first" claiming a privilege of some kind, eg., the "young man" (self-righteous), the disciples (discipleship above and beyond the call of duty), Pharisees (law-righteous), the crowds (historical status), .... becoming "the last" and thus being either excluded from the kingdom, or forced to move aside to welcome "the last" who are now "the first", eg. outcasts, Gentiles, sinners ..... Yet, as noted above, the saying does nothing more than overturn conventional wisdom - it is the meek who inherit the earth. An allegorical approach to this saying is unnecessary.

The additional words "for many are invited, but few are chosen" are likely to have come from 22:14 and are therefore, not original.


Matthew Introduction



[Pumpkin Cottage]