Matthew 20:1: 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.
Matthew 20:2: And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
Matthew 20:3: And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
Matthew 20:4: And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way.
Matthew 20:5: Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise.
Matthew 20:6: 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?
Matthew 20:7: 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.
Matthew 20:8: 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.
Matthew 20:9: And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny.
Matthew 20:10: But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny.
Matthew 20:11: And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house,
Matthew 20:12: 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.
Matthew 20:13: But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?
Matthew 20:14: Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee.
Matthew 20:15: Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?
Matthew 20:16: So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.
This passage is often used to justify capitalism and reject communism. While we all know the ill effects of communism and how it brings equal misery to everyone in society, to use the above passage to justify capitalism is ridiculous. This passage doesn’t teach capitalism at all. This couldn’t be further from the truth and an insult to scriptural revelation.
This passage concerns the kingdom of heaven and the harvest regarding this kingdom down through the ages. The main character is the householder, the good man of the house. This same householder, also in connection with the kingdom, is mentioned in three other places in the New Testament in the Book of Matthew.
Matthew 13:27: So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares?
This householder wasn’t a capitalist but he suffered loss due to sabotage by enemies who sowed tares in his field. He didn’t even retaliate against those saboteurs.
A capitalist would immediately cut loss or take remedial action to correct the situation to preserve shareholder value of the enterprise. He would not sit idly by ignoring opportunity cost and allows his investment to be affected by his competitors.
Matthew 13:52: Then said he unto them, Therefore every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old.
This householder could be anyone instructed in the kingdom of heaven and he is not any kind of capitalist at all.
Matthew 21:33: Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country:
This householder has a vineyard. Having trouble collecting the fruits of his vineyard, he even sacrificed his son in the process. This is not the work of a capitalist.
Back to the passage in Matthew 20, the householder in question did not exhibit any trait of a capitalist. A capitalist is a profit maximiser and a cost minimiser. In fact, everyone in general is a profit maximiser and a cost minimiser.
He had contracted the first batch of workers for a penny a day. For the other batches of workers, he only promised them what was right compensation for them. Came payment time, those who worked for only one hour received the same compensation with the first batch of workers who toiled through the entire day.
If he were a capitalist, would he compensate this group of workers who worked only for an hour the same wages with those who worked the whole day? Haven’t capitalists been moving jobs to lower cost countries to maximize profit? To force this passage to teach capitalism is to strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.
More importantly, this way of teaching scriptures distorts very important truths this passage has to reveal. Though this passage concerns harvest time only for a day, the kingdom of heaven does not imply only a one day harvest. The general truths of the harvest includes first fruits, the general harvest and the gleanings.
The first batch of workers entered the work to harvest the first fruits. Then followed by other batches reaping the general harvest. Finally, it was left with gleanings for the last batch of workers.
The first batch of workers enjoyed the first fruits of the vineyard. This was joyous time indeed. Then followed by the rest of the workers labouring in the general harvest. Harvest was plentiful and rewarding and not too difficult though labouring longer hours in the vineyard.
Come to the gleanings, there were not much left to harvest. It could be rather discouraging. The happy joyous fruitful harvest is long gone left with some fruits here and there, a rather pathetic sight. This makes harvesting more difficult and discouraging.
Towards the tail end of the harvest, productivity is rather low. Yet, the householder rewarded these workers just the same as those workers who worked the whole day. This does not seem fair. This is definitely not the practice of a capitalist.
This gives rise to comparison. The first batch of workers were bellyaching. They expected to be paid more when they realized those workers who worked for only an hour received a penny. They started to compare themselves with this group of workers. They didn’t compare themselves with those who worked only three hours less who also received a penny. This is the trait of fallen human nature.
Everyone would compare and exaggerate to his advantage and benefit. In fact, everyone is a profit maximiser and a cost minimiser and a capitalist at heart. Their sense of fairness is man-centric. The starting point is myself as a basis for fairness. Self entitlement mentality is very strong.
They would never think how good the householder is who rewarded those who worked only an hour so much more than they deserved. They would never praise the good and generous nature of the householder but wallow in self pity and misery.
Indeed the householder did not cheat them at all. They had all agreed to labour for a penny a day. The rest did not get a contract but trusted the householder to reward them.
This is a double-edged sword. Their trust in the householder could be misplaced and get cheated. There was no contractual obligation for the householder to reward them a penny like the first batch of workers. They could get considerably less than this first batch of workers and there would be no recourse for them.
So if the rest of the workers get very much less in remuneration, the first batch of workers would be happy and count themselves fortunate who have a contract to fall back on to demand just compensation. This is another evil trait of the fallen human nature. They would not rejoice with those who get more than they deserve but would be happy for all to suffer in equal misery, better still if others suffer misfortune.
Hence, the rest of those workers who entered the work based on faith and trust that this householder would not cheat them were rewarded. So it comes down to the attitude of these men when they were hired into the work. Those who left only an hour to work could have found the work left to perform not very lucrative and not worth their effort and turn down the offer to work based on the goodness and generosity of this householder.
After all, how much could they make for just an hour left to labour? Why not wait for better opportunity the next day? Is it worth the trouble to dirty their hands for this last hour of labour? They could turn out to be those described by Solomon giving excuses not to labour.
Ecclesiastes 11:4: He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.
Nevertheless, those who entered into the work even though it was just an hour of work left to perform were handsomely rewarded. It is very easy to justify inaction based on a self-centered approach.
In this actual world we live in, to work without a contract is dangerous. You could be taken advantaged and cheated by the employer. If such an offer to work comes your way, it is a judgment call whether this employer could be trusted. But the householder here in Matthew 20 is the Lord of harvest offering those who labour for Him to be rewarded what is right.
This harvest concerns preaching the gospel of Christ. During the early Church Age, thousands were saved. Those who toiled through the heat of the day saw their harvest and were rewarded down through the ages to the Reformation. This first batch of labourers secured compensation for their effort and their rewards were confirmed.
Matthew 19:27: Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?
Matthew 19:28: And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
It is the time of gleaning now where the labour is hard and discouraging. The vineyard is almost bare and the fields of the world are really pathetic. Fruitful harvest is long gone. Labouring without much fruitfulness is not very exciting and encouraging. How many are still willing to enter into the Lord’s vineyard to labour in the eleventh hour?
Luke 18:8: I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?
Notwithstanding, those who are willing to labour during the eleventh hour during difficult circumstances, they will not be disappointed because the Lord is always generous to reward even the underserving. Those who labour during the first hour are rewarded and likewise those who labour in the final hour will not lose their rewards if they are willing to enter into the work of the Lord.
Matthew 20:16: So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.
2 Timothy 4:8: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.
To equate the householder in this passage as an exploitative profit driven capitalist is to impinge his good character and an insult to the highest order. It does not do justice to what this passage has to teach.
Failing to consider the goodness of the person of the householder, the state of the vineyard at different period of time, the nature of the harvest, the state of mind and conditions of the workers during different time in evaluating profitability of the labour involved as well as the types of employment contract offered, concluding this passage teaches capitalism is going off on a tangent.
More importantly, the prophetic nature of the harvest throughout the Church Age with regards to the gospel of Christ becomes non existent when this passage is used to teach capitalism alone. Church history clearly shows the state of harvest beginning from the first fruits through the general harvest to the state of gleanings. The seven letters issued to the seven churches in the Book of Revelation also reveal the state of the last days church wallowing in lukewarmness where the harvest is soon to conclude.
Hence, it is foolish to interpret scriptures to support man-made theories and systems in the world. Failing to study Biblical economics that include a Jubilee to reset the economy in the world will tend to lead to the erroneous idea of the superiority of capitalism that must be defended at all cost including perverting scriptures to justify this end.
It is instructional to heed the state of our times in Church history and to know the conditions we are labouring under to avoid falling into discouragement and despair when we see so little left to harvest where productivity is very low. Economics text book calls this period of time the state of diminishing returns.
It may not seem worthwhile to labour anymore during this final hour of the harvest. However, the Lord’s rewards are certain and sure though the fruitful harvest experienced by those before us may seem to have reaped abundantly while we do not achieve very much.
Jeremiah 8:20: The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.
Psalms 126:5: They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.
Psalms 126:6: He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.
Revelation 22:12: And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.