<< Matthew XX: Laborers in the Vineyard >>

prb711_500_373THERE are many vineyards in Palestine and there  used to be many more than now. The vines were often planted on a terraced hill-side. A hedge or a  wall  protected them from wild boars and foxes. The grapes were used for making wine, and the vineyard must have its wine-press. This was a vat cut in the rock in which the juice could be trodden out, to run off into another vat. The wine-presses are often found among the bushes in neglected places, showing that there were once vineyards there. Sometimes a tower was built where the watchman could keep watch, so that no thief should steal the fruit. There was much work to do in a vineyard, in digging up the ground and gathering out stones and pulling the weeds, training the vines on their trellises and pruning them, and by and by in gathering the fruit and making the wine.

All these things came to the minds of the people when the Lord spoke a parable about a householder hiring laborers into his vineyard. As we read of his going out early in the morning, and at the third, sixth, ninth, and eleventh hours, we remember that the Jews began to count the day from six-o'clock in the morning. The third hour was nine o'clock, and you can see what times are meant by the other hours. The penny mentioned in the parable is the same that we learned of in the story of the good Samaritan. It was a Roman silver piece about as big as a dime, and worth fifteen cents. But a little money went a long way in those days, so that "a penny a day" was fair wages for a workman. The parable speaks of the steward who, we know, was the man who took care of his master's goods and money. Let us read the parable, and then let us think a little about its meaning.

For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way. Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day. But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?  Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?  So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.---Matthew XX. 1-16.

The householder in the parable means the Lord, and He needs laborers to learn from Him what is right and to do all the good they can. He does not give all people just the same work to do. Some seem to have harder work than others,—more faults to overcome, more dilliculfy in learning and doing right. Some live and labor many long years; some but a few years or days. Those who go to the other world as little children are the workmen called at the eleventh hour, who did not bear "the burden and heat of the day." When we learn about the beautiful homes which the Lord prepares in heaven for those who die as little children, so safe from every danger, where they grow up so pure and good, it seems sometimes as if He were kinder to them than to us. But the Lord is good to all. He knows that some can become more useful and happy by growing up as children in heaven, and some by working longer here. We can trust His love and be sure that He prepares what is best for each one.

We may think of the laborers also as meaning faculties in ourselves, which are called successively into the Lord's service; first some that think about reward, as the first laborers bargained for their pay; afterwards those that are more trustful, like the laborers who were content, knowing that whatsoever was right they should receive; and at last the innocent states and impressions of childhood are awakened and called into service, the best and most precious of all. Every faculty which does its work faithfully, receives its blessing from the Lord.

Author: William L. Worcester 1904

Spiritual Correspondences

      The work in the vineyard >> The work which the Lord appoints for us to do, the spiritual work contained within our occupation, the learning of the Lord's truth, the resisting of evil and doing good

      The vine and wine >> Types of spiritual intelligence

      Work to be done in the vineyard >> Softening the ground of our hearts, receiving the Lord's truth and giving it deep root, restraining merely intellectual interest in knowledge, which is the vigorous pruning of the vine, directing its knowledge into those branches which will bear fruit

      The laborers in the vineyard >> The faculties which are successively developed as regeneration advances, and as persons who go from earth some after a long life of preparation, and some with the open hearts and minds of children

      The laborers first called >> The early, youthful efforts to learn the Lord's truth and do it

      The bargaining of the first laborers for their pay, and in their dissatisfaction at the close of the day when others received more than they >> Early, youthful efforts have in them much self-confidence, and idea of merit and of deserving reward

       The laborers called later were satisfied with the assurance of the householder: "Whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive." >> Later efforts are more trustful.

      The laborers called at the eleventh hour, who seem to have stood all the day unnoticed >> The most innocent, trustful states, which were given us in childhood, but are not for a long time called into consciousness and active use, perhaps not until old age. These trustful, childlike qualities which seem of small account from a worldly point of view are most precious to the Lord and most open to His blessing. It is what He means in saying that "the last shall be the first, and the first last"

      The "many" who are called >> The more external states and efforts

      The "few" who are chosen >> The deeper, gentler states which bring us nearer to the Lord

Spiritual Meaning


THUS Jesus finished His work in Galilee. He had given them the Christian law, which was the law of the Heavenly Father's love. He brought the love of the Father down into the plane of obedience to the truth. He had subdued the disorderly natural appetites ; had given the love of orderly living, with knowledge of genuine good, and affection for truth for the sake of good. He had gathered together and instructed those who received these things. He had exposed the errors and harmfulness of the teachings of the church, and set men free from bondage to them. He had taught and illustrated the exceeding goodness of the heavenly life and of its enjoyments. He had done all that Infinite gentleness and Infinite wisdom could do to save men. The Gentiles had received Him. The church in Galilee, following the scribes and Pharisees which were of Jerusalem, had rejected Him ; but great multitudes were gathered out from it who followed Him, and were healed by Him.

He left Galilee, taking with Him a multitude of those who believed on Him taking also His own gains of the Divine saving love, with its power of beneficent work in human life and came into the country beyond the Jordan, through which lay His road to Jerusalem. This road was parallel to the one through Samaria, and was the connecting link between Galilee and Judea.1 Much more is told by John and Luke of the work in Samaria and of the journeys between Galilee and Judea, which represent the preparation of the spiritual mind to see clearly the relation between the Divine in the inmost and the outward life, and to be the uniting medium between the celestial and the natural. In Matthew and Mark, only so much is told as is necessary to establish the connection.

And first comes the teaching about the singleness and permanence of marriage in answer to the question of those who united the truth revealed from God with the lusts of self-love. To them He said substantially, that every truth from God was one with good in God, and must be united with its own good in men men leaving the evils of their natural inheritance and desire, and cleaving to the good from God. The hardness of men's hearts separated truth from good; and this must be permitted, that men may be regenerated in freedom ; but it was not so from the beginning, nor is it of the Divine purpose. In three degrees men may be pure in heart, and may come into the marriage of truth from God with love from God : they may receive truth immediately into the life and thus grow up in the heavenly marriage ; or they may receive it intelligently into the understanding, and come into the life of charity by living it faithfully ; or they may come into some degree of purity and of spiritual marriage by a simple obedience as of themselves, "for the kingdom of heaven's sake." In one of these degrees the good love from God must, be united with the truth, or man has nothing of the kingdom of heaven in him.

Then follows the bringing of the little children, "that He should put His hands on them, and pray." For the Divine is communicated to those who are innocent, neither claiming nor seeking aught for themselves, but depending wholly on their Heavenly Father, as His little children.

And now follows a most important lesson for all to learn, who have been diligent in acquiring the truth and learning to live it that there must be no pride in knowing the truth, nor in faithful abundant good life from it, that there may be a sense of conjunction with God in it. The thought of these as one's own, or of the possibility of having any good as one's own, is incompatible with the sense of living from God which constitutes the kingdom of heaven.

The disciples as yet knew of no other way than to do good of themselves. The Lord alone, from the Divine in Him, knew the Divine way, the way of conjunction between God and man. 

Peter's question showed the willingness of those who are living the truth, to give up the self-life for the Lord, and yet also the expectation of reward. The Lord's answer taught that the truths they lived should, when reborn of God, share in the Divine glory. And that just so far as they gave up the possessions of self and the care for self they should receive what was innocent and deep, and full of life from God.( AE. 724.)

And then in the beautiful parable of the laborers in the vineyard, He taught that not according to the labors in acquiring truths and living them necessary though these may be are the rewards of heaven ; but according to the innocence, whether preserved unharmed from childhood, or regained through toil. And those who think they have earned much, will receive heaven more tardily than they who know they have earned nothing, but receive of the Divine Mercy that to which they, being only evil, have no claim.

The Lord's own thorough surrender of that which could claim aught for self was expressed in what He now again foretold as His purpose in going up to Jerusalem. The very slight impression made upon the disciples, the very slight impression it has ever made upon the Christian Church, is shown by the petition now offered by the mother of Zebedee's children 2 that her two sons might sit, one on the right hand and one on the left, in His kingdom. The Lord answered that they would be purified in following Him, even as He was purified, and according as they were prepared they would receive from the Father. And then He emphasized the last and supreme lesson of the journey, that a gentle humility which had no regard to self, but would minister
and serve without any restraint or limit, was the only greatness He possessed, the only greatness He had to bestow.

These, then, are the lessons of the last journey to Jerusalem. They will be seen to belong to the inner mind, where is the spiritual or truly rational thought, which brings the outer life of good conduct into relation with the inner presence of the Lord. They teach the unity of the truth from God with the love of God ; the necessity for innocence, the ascribing of nothing to self, that the love of God which is heaven may enter. They teach that pride in the truth and in faithful labor is a hindrance to happy life from the Spirit of God ; and that the acknowledgment that good is of the Divine mercy alone is the essential condition of receiving good ; also that the essence of the Divine goodness is a gentleness that loves to serve only, and would perish if the thought of greatness should intrude. These surely are just the lessons needed to open the plane of good conduct to the sense of life from God. And it will not have escaped notice that they are in substance those of the sixth chapter of Matthew not to have any reflection upon self, or sense of merit, in good works ; to keep the heart open to the Lord with innocent acknowledgment that all good is from Him ; to bear willingly and cheerfully the chastening necessary to remove the self ; to care only for the Lord and heaven, rejecting self and the world; to be trustful and innocent as the birds and the lilies, caring only to do the work of each day from the Spirit of the Lord, and trusting all else to Him.3

The opening the eyes of the blind, is now the revelation of the beautiful life of service from the Spirit of God, made possible by the presence of that Spirit in the Divine Human of the Lord. It is the opening of heaven to those who before saw nothing but the earth. (Author: John Worchester, 1898. Matthew's Gospel.)

1. In one of the journeys to Jerusalem, He "sent messengers before His face ; and they went, and entered into a city of the Samaritans, to make ready for Him. And they did not receive Him, because His face was as though He would go to Jerusalem." Of this Swedenborg says :
" The city of the Samaritans signifies the false doctrine of those who reject the Lord; because the Samaritans did not receive Him " (Apocalypse Explained, n. 223 ; see also 391,653). When false doctrines prevail, His teaching is not received ; but it may be, in the parallel Gentile state of good works with desire for spiritual instruction. The road on the other side of the Jordan was mostly through the territory of Gad (a Troop), which signifies an abundance of good works.

2. It will be remembered that it was Zebedee who remained in the ship with the hired servants, when James and John followed the Lord ; and now the mother of his children seeks their greatness. So does the zeal of natural affection for even the noblest truths of the church, mingle the hope of greatness with the loveof them.

3. Luke places a large part of this teaching, together with much more, in this same region beyond the Jordan not in the story of this last journey, but in another of the same winter.

Pictures: James Tissot ----Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum 

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