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 - be warned!


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 19:16-30. 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 again at the end of the parable to underline the point he wants to make.


ii] Structure: The parable of the workers:

God's rewards, v1-16:

Parable, v1-15:

Independent saying, v16:

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


iii] Interpretation:

The parable of the Workers in the Field is a kingdom parable, a proclamation of the gospel in the form of a riddle. 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; it proclaims that the "the kingdom of God is at hand."

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 the independent saying, "the last will be first and the first last", v16, 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, but it is best to view the kingdom as both realized and inaugurated, now and not yet. So, a kingdom parable announces that the kingdom is at hand, but as noted above, it can be used for other purposes.


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 (ie., evangelistic), indicates that Matthew uses the best of what he has at hand. The use of kingdom parables (gospel riddles) for a didactic purpose is unique to Matthew.


v] Homiletics:

The construction of a sermon on this parable may best be shaped by Matthew's didactic intent in the alignment of the parable with the account of the rich young man and the sacrificing disciples. The rich young man may have gone away sad, broken before the law, but eternal reward is not lost to him because "with God, all things are possible", ie., grace applies - like the landowner, God is "generous". The disciples, who have unwisely reminded Jesus that they have "left everything to follow" him, having "sweated the whole day long in the blazing sun", should by now have discovered that "with God, all things are possible", ie., grace applies. Given that all is grace, that "the first will be last and the last first", let those who follow Christ adopt the eye / mind of Christ, rather than an ofqalmoV ponhroV, "evil eye", and welcome "little children" rather than "grumble". 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 accepting / receiving them irrespective of their deeds.


vi] 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 [the kingdom of the heavens]. 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. See 3:2 for "kingdom of heaven."

oJmoia adj. "like" - [is] like, comparable. Predicate adjective. "The kingdom of heaven is like (like = may be compared to the situation where) a landowner hires workers for his fields."

anqrwpw/ (oV) dat. "[a landowner]" - to a man, [a master of a house, a landowner]. Dative complement of oJmoia, dative of person's or things compared. "A master, landowner", oikodespoth/, is dative in apposition to "man"; "a man, namely a landowner." "A farmer", Phillips.

aJma prwi "early in the morning" - [who went out] at once in the morning. Temporal construction; 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 is adverbial, introducing a final clause expressing purpose, "in order to hire"; "to work in his vineyard", Barclay.

ergataV (hV ou) "men" - workmen. Accusative direct object of the verb "to hire." "Laborers".

eiV + acc. "for [his vineyard]" - to [the vineyard of him]. Possibly expressing advantage, "for the upkeep of his vineyard", or simply spacial, "to work in 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" - [but/and] 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 in place of a genitive of price rather than express source etc.

thn hJmeran (a) "for the day" - the day [he sent them in the vineyard of him]. Accusative used to express extent of time; "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" - [and having gone out] 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" - [he saw others] having stood. The participle serves as the complement of the direct object "others" standing in a double accusative construction. Possibly with the sense of "present in the marketplace".

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

argouV adj. "doing nothing" - idle, not working, lazy. This accusative adjective is probably adverbial, here modal, expressing the manner of their "standing". 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 [go into the vineyard]. Adjunctive, as NIV.

dwsw (didwmi) fut. "I will pay" - [and whatever may be right] i 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 an indefinite relative clause which also happens to be conditional, although more 1st. class than 3rd.; "whatever is just, then I will give to 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.


de "so" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a step in the narrative.

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

exelqwn (exercomai) aor. part. "he went out [again]" - [but/and] 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]" - Temporal. Representing "12 noon and 3pm."

wJsautwV adv. "[did] the same thing" - [he did] likewise. Adverb of manner, of similarity.


peri + acc. "about" - [but/and] about, around. Temporal use of the preposition to indicate a step in the narrative.

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

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

euJren (euJriskw) aor. "found" - he discoverd the whereabouts of.

estwtaV (iJsthmi) perf. part. "standing around" - [others] having stood. The participle serves as the complement of the accusative direct object "others" standing in a double accusative construction; "he found others standing around."

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

ti pro. "Why ...?" - why [have you been standing here all day idle]? Interrogative pronoun, here adverbial, consecutive, modifying the participle "having stood"; "for what reason are you standing around?" The question is possibly in the form of a rebuke; "why are you wasting the whole day here doing nothing?", TEV.


oJti "because" - [they say to him] that = because. Here causal, as NIV.

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

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

kai uJmeiV "you also" - [he says to them] and you [go into the vineyard]. As in v4, an emphatic use of the pronoun "you", with an adjunctive kai, "also"; "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 receive 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" - [evening] having become. The genitive absolute participle serves to introduce a temporal clause, as NIV. Day laborers were paid at the end of the day, sunset.

oJ kurioV "the owner" - the lord, owner. Nominative subject of the verb "to say." 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" - [says] to the steward [of him]. Dative of indirect object. The manager, foreman... the person in charge of the workers.

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

arxamenoV (ercomai) aor. mid. part. "beginning" - having begun. 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]" - [with the last ones] until [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" - [and] the ones [about the eleventh hour]. The article serves as a nominalizer turning the prepositional construction "about the eleventh hour" into a substantive; "The ones" refers to those who were hired, so "those who were hired about the eleventh hour." The preposition peri + acc. is temporal here, so "about, around."

elqonteV (ercomai) aor. part. "came" - having come. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "to receive", as NIV; "those who were hired around five in the afternoon came and received their wages." The participle may be treated as temporal, "when ..... they came", Moffatt.

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 - they each received a full day's pay.


elqonteV (ercomai) aor. part. "[so] when [those] came [who were hired first]" - [and the first ones] having come. The participle is adverbial, best treated as 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. Introducing a dependent statement of perception expressing what they thought.

pleion adv. "more" - [they would receive] much = a larger amount. The adverb serves as a substantive, accusative direct object of the verb "to receive"; "receive a larger sum."

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

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

to "-" - The variant neuter article probably refers to the agreed wage; "but they also received that which was agreed, each one a denarius." The preposition ana + acc. is again distributive, so "each one, each man."


de "-" - but/and. Indicating a step in the narrative, slightly adversative; "but when they received it."

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

egogguzon (gogguzw) imperf. "they began to grumble" - they were complaining, murmuring, muttering. The imperfect, being durative / imperfective, may indicate a continual muttering, although a grumble is by nature durative, or it may be 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.


oiJ escatoi adj. "who were hired last" - [saying these] the last ones [worked one hour]. This articular adjective serves as a substantive, nominative subject of the verb "to work"; "These last fellows have only put in one hours work", Phillips.

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

isouV adj. "equal" - [and you made them] equal. This adjective serves as the complement of the accusative direct object "them" standing in a double accusative construction.

hJmin dat. pro. "to us" - to us. Dative of direct object after the adjective "equal to."

toiV bastasasi (bastazw) dat. aor. part. "who have borne" - the ones having borne, endured. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "us"; "those of us who have borne the burden and heat of the day."

thV hJmeraV (a) gen. "of the day" - [the hardship, difficulty, burden] of the day [and the heat of the day]. We have here a kind of zeugma where the implied adjectival genitive "of the day" for "heat" would be possessive, but not so for "burden". For "burden" it is more idiomatic, "the burden which comes from working the whole day." "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. Transitional, indicating a step in the dialogue, treated as an adversative by the NIV.

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

eJni dat. adj. "one" - [said] to one. 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, cheating [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. Dative of direct object after the sun prefix verb "to make an agreement with."

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


to "[your] pay" - [take] the [of you]. The neuter article serves as a nominalizer turning the possessive adjective, "yours", into a substantive, accusative direct object of the verb "to take"; "take the thing of you" = that belongs to you" = "your pay", what was agreed, ie., the one denarius.

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

de "-" - but/and. Indicating a step in the dialogue.

qelw "I want" - i will, wish. 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 "-" - or. The first disjunctive "or" is missing in some manuscripts. The meaning seems clearer without it which may have prompted its removal.

ouk "don't" - [is it] not [permissible for me to do what I wish]? 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; "with, by means of ...."

toiV emoiV "my own money" - the things of me. The article toiV serves as a nominalizer turning the possessive adjective "my" into a substantive, possibly "my own land", but most translators opt for "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 predicate adjective "good" is usually taken here to mean "generous", but one wonders whether Matthew saw it that way - The landowner is good as God is good, which goodness we should try to emulate.


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 addresses the disciples' self-congratulation. The "young man" will hopefully realize that the gaining of covenant blessings does not depend on doing, but on receiving (ie., on God's doing, 19:26), whereas the disciples still think it's about doing, and they have been doing very well, or so they think. Hopefully they too will come to realize that the appropriation of the promised blessings of the covenant is all about receiving, rather than doing, and as a consequence, will welcome little children. Given Paul's rebuke of Peter for breaking fellowship with Gentile believers over the consumption of ritually unclean food, Gal.2:11-16, they did not quickly come to understand that right-standing / holiness in the sight of God is by grace through faith apart from works of the law.

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

oiJ prwtoi adj. "the first" - [the last ones will be first and] the first ones [last]. The adjective serves as a substantive, nominative subject of an assumed verb to-be. 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 found in some texts, "for many are invited, but few are chosen", are likely to have come from 22:14 and are not original.


Matthew Introduction



[Pumpkin Cottage]