The Workers in the Vineyard
( Originally Published 1915 )
JESUS EXPLAINED by a parable what he meant in saying, "Many that are first shall be last, and some that are lowest here will be the highest in God's kingdom." This parable was "The Workers in the Vineyard."
"There was a man," said Jesus, "who owned a vineyard. He needed men to work in his vineyard; and one day, early in the morning, went out to hire them. Some men met him and agreed to work for him at fifteen cents for each day's work; so he sent them out to his vineyard. At about nine o'clock he was walking through the market place, and seeing some other men standing around, waiting for work, he said to them:
" `You go to work in my vineyard, and whatever is fair, I will pay you.'
"He went out again at noon; he found men wanting work and sent them also into his vineyard, saying to them, `Whatever are fair wages, I will pay you.' Again at three o'clock, he found other men and sent them, too, making them the same promise. He went into the market place at five o'clock, almost at the end of the day, and found some men standing there. `Why do you stand here doing nothing?' he said to these men. They answered him :
" `We would be glad to work; but nobody is ready to hire us.'
" `You go into my vineyard, too,' he said, `and I will pay you whatever is right.'
"When the evening came, .the master of the vineyard said to his foreman, `Now call thé workers together and pay them their wages. Begin with those who came to work last, then pay those who went into the vineyard at three o'clock, and so on, ending with those who went to work earliest.'
"So those came up first who had been hired last, and had worked only one hour; and to each of them was paid fifteen cents, the wages of a full day's work. When the first came, they supposed that they would be paid more, because they had worked longer; but each was paid his fifteen cents, as had been agreed upon. These men complained to the master of the vineyard.
" `Those men who came in last, when the day was almost ended,' they said, `have been made equal to us, who have borne the hard work and the heat of the day. That is not fair!'
" `My friend,' said the master to one of these men, `I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me to work for fifteen cents a day? Take up your wages and go. I choose to give to this last man the same as to you. Haven't I the right do so as I please with what belongs to me? Are you jealous because I am generous?'
"So," said Jesus, "there are last who will be first; and there are first who will be last."
This parable shows how God gives his rewards differently from men. Men pay only for work that is done; but God gives his pay to those who are willing to work for him, whether they are able to work or not; for while men look at the deed, God looks at the heart.
Every day Jesus was drawing nearer to Jerusalem, and his twelve disciples with all the multitude of those who were following him, fully expected that in Jerusalem Jesus would reign as the King of Israel. He had told them before, and more than once, that he was going up to Jerusalem to die there; but their minds were so fixed upon thrones and kingdoms and worldly power that they could not understand his words.
Now Jesus called together his twelve disciples, apart from the crowd.
"Listen!" he said, "We are going up to Jerusalem, and there everything that is written in the books of the prophets about the Son of Man shall come to pass. He will be given up to his enemies, the chief priests and the scribes, the teachers of the law; and they shall sentence him to be put to death, and shall hand him over to the Romans to be mocked and beaten and nailed to a cross to die; and on the third day after, he will rise from the dead."
But the disciples did not understand what these words meant. They were just as certain as they had been before, that he was going up to Jerusalem to take the throne and rule, and they even talked among themselves about the chief offices in his kingdom and who should have them.
When they were drawing near to Jerusalem, but still in the land of Perea, a woman came to Jesus with her two sons. This woman was named Salome; and she was the wife of Zebedee, and the mother of James and John, two of the leading disciples of Jesus. She bowed low even to the ground before Jesus, and begged him to grant her a favor.
"What is it that you want?" said Jesus to her.
"I want you to promise me," said Salome, "that in your kingdom these two sons of mine shall sit, one on your right hand and the other on your left."
"You do' not know what you are asking," answered Jesus. Can you drink of the cup that I am to drink? Can you receive the same baptism that is coming to me?"
"Yes," the two men said, "we can!"
"You shall indeed drink my cup, and be baptized with my baptism," said Jesus. "But it is not mine to say who shall sit on my right hand and on my left. Those places shall be given to those whom my Father has chosen for them."
By his cup and his baptism, Jesus meant his sufferings and his death; but this James and John did not know. When the other ten disciples heard of this they were very angry with the two . brothers for trying to get ahead of them. But Jesus called them to him and said:
"You know that in the nations of this world their rulers lord it over them, and their great men make the people serve them. But it must not be so with you. Whoever among you has the will to be great, let him be a servant to the others; and whoever would be first, let him be even as a slave. For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give up his life that he may save many."