The Parable of the Laborers: Being First and Last

The Parable’s Introduction

While teaching huge crowds in Perea, an area east of the Jordan River, Jesus is approached by a rich young man who wants to know how to gain eternal life. Jesus tests the man by telling him to keep the ten commandments (Exodus 20). The man self-righteously says he has done that all his life, but he wonders what else he is missing.

The Parable of the Laborers

In what is sometimes called the Parable of the Gracious Landowner, an owner of a vineyard begins hiring laborers at sunrise to bring in the harvest. Most ancient Galileans worked in agriculture, so they would have been familiar with a story about unemployed, landless workers lining up early for work. Some brought in the harvest, others provided security, and boys or even shepherds and goatherders might drive the animals. Some men might work the entire day, and others might work only a portion of the day.

Responding to the Call

The parable’s first-hour workers represent the Jewish people, and the later workers represent Gentiles. Theologically, Jesus’ parable explains the reward that awaits all who answer the call of salvation. It does not matter who they are (Jewish or Gentile), when they received the gift of grace or began working for the kingdom, or how hard they worked.

The Parable’s Follow-up Warning

Mark 10 contains the same parable of the landowner and the laborers. One notable difference is how Jesus responds to Peter’s question regarding their reward. In addition to judging the tribes of Israel, Jesus assures them they will “receive a hundredfold now in this time — houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands.” But then Jesus adds something significant in verse thirty.

Hope in Our Suffering

Unfortunately, we should expect resistance to our Christian faith. Several Scriptures remind us of it, such as Philippians 1:29.



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