The Kingdom, by Witness Lee

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The Lord Jesus next spoke a parable to further illustrate the impossibility of earning the kingdom or of paying a certain price for it. He told of a householder who had a vineyard and who went out early in the morning, as the ancient custom was, to hire workmen (20:1-16). At six o’clock the householder hired workmen and agreed to pay them a denarius for the day’s labor. Later, at the third hour, meaning nine o’clock in the morning, he found others standing idle in the market place, whom he also hired, offering them a just wage. At the sixth and ninth hours—at noon and at three in the afternoon—the owner went to the market place again, found more idle people, and hired them to work for a suitable wage. Two hours later, at five o’clock, he went out once again and hired still more idle people.

At six o’clock in the evening the householder paid the workmen. What happened was quite unusual. He started to pay from the last, not from the first. Altogether, there were five groups: the six-o’clock-in-the-morning group, the nine-o’clock group, the twelve-o’clock group, the three-o’clock group, and the five-o’clock group. The lord of the vineyard paid the last group first and concluded with the first group. The agreement between the lord and the workmen in the first group was for one denarius for twelve hour’s work. They worked from six in the morning until six in the evening. Starting with the last group, the lord gave each man a penny. Peter must have thought to himself, "Those new ones came in at five o’clock in the afternoon and have received a penny for working only one hour. The others worked twelve times as long and certainly should receive twelve times as much." This is the commercial way of thinking. The lord eventually paid the same amount to those in the first group. Those who had worked from the early morning were angry with their lord saying, "These last have worked one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat" (20:12). Then the householder asked them, "Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is mine?" (20:15). The Lord seemed to be speaking to Peter: "Didn’t I make an agreement with you, Peter? You gave up everything to follow Me, and I agreed to give you a penny. I have given you what I promised. I told you that the first will be last and that the last will be first." This same expression is found both in Matthew 19:30 and Matthew 20:16, proving that the parable is a definition of the Lord’s words to Peter in Matthew 19:27-30.

This parable signifies the whole age of grace. The time early in the morning denotes the time when the Lord Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James, and John to enter into the kingdom. He called them and hired them, and they gave up everything for the kingdom. This parable is very meaningful in the eyes of the Lord. It indicates that unless you forsake everything for the kingdom, you are an idle person. You may be a doctor or a professor, but if you do not give up everything for the kingdom, the Lord considers you an idle person. In the entire universe God has only one work and one purpose—to establish His kingdom. If you are not in this work, you are idle. If we sacrifice all that we are and have for God’s kingdom, it means that we have been hired by God to work for Him. We are no longer idle and jobless; we have the proper job. If we do anything else on earth, in the eyes of God we are idle.

(The Kingdom, Chapter 28, by Witness Lee)