Matthew 20 New International Version

1“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2He agreed to pay them a denarius a for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

3“About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5So they went.

“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

7“ ‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

If they had been standing there all day long, wouldn't they have run into the landowner earlier?

  • 2
    During the course of the day, the crowds of potential workers thinned out as many employers took groups of labourers away, The last few were only visible once the rest had gone from the gathering place. The point of the parable is the matter of wages and the duration of labour. Such parables are not to be analysed in such detail regarding peripheral factors as though such details would yield further spiritual truth.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jun 30, 2021 at 14:26
  • It's not unlike Kingdom of God when people don't enter the first time they hear,
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Jun 30, 2021 at 15:21
  • @Tony The text isn't explicit regarding where all of these different groups were located. Yes, in the second instance, they were definitely standing in the "marketplace." But, we are not explicitly told the landowner continued to visit that same area at the other 3-hour intervals. I'm not sure we can merely assume the last workers (at 5 pm) who had been "standing there all day long", had been doing so in the very same location as all the others.
    – Xeno
    Commented Jul 1, 2021 at 17:15
  • Right. @Anne also pointed this out.
    – user35953
    Commented Jul 1, 2021 at 17:51
  • Interest only: In a Chinese city (in about 2008) I was driven past an area where a large grpoup of men were standing - not fully concealed but somewhat out of the line of sight. I asked my "mother hen" (factory provided lokker after) what they were doing. She said that it was an illegal job market where people came to try to find work. This was perhaps late morning. I do not know wht this was or would be illegal. Commented Jul 2, 2021 at 6:47

3 Answers 3


Your shrewd observation completely surprised me; I had never thought about the possibility that those men had been standing all day in a place where labourers were hired, and that the landowner would have visited the spot four times already that day. Had the men been there all day long, it is reasonable to wonder why those men had not seen the hiring going on and sought the landowner's employ.

However, some points may be incorrectly assumed here. Was it exactly the same spot as early in the morning, as at the other three times, where the landowner returned to? Perhaps it was a large town where there were five locations where men gathered to seek daily employment. Or there may have been two locations, the landowner only going to the second one at the eleventh hour.

But the real point to bear in mind is that Jesus was not relating an actual event. He was giving a parable as to what the Kingdom of God was like. And this parable followed on the heels of Jesus telling his disciples that "Many who are first will be last, and the last first" (Mat. 19:30).

It is significant that the parable which followed ended with the labourers hired last receiving their wages first. And the labourers hired first, received their wages last.

Therefore, the hypothetical scenario does not require examination of such details as to why the men hired last, having been there all day, had not seen the landowner who had appeared four times previously searching for workers. There was no actual landowner, there were not various lots of workers engaged prior to the last batch at the eleventh hour, there was no handing out of wages at the end of the day.

But spiritually, the parable has profound implications for those who think that the longer and the harder they work for the Master (Christ) in his 'field' (the world - Mat. 13:38), the more they will deserve to 'earn' as a 'wage'.

  • Can you be sure that Jesus was not relating an actual event ? Or relating a common procedure which may well have had the result that he recounts ?
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jun 30, 2021 at 14:29
  • 1
    Parables were a teaching tool used to instruct, based on well-known, everyday reality, with believable characters doing believable things that all the listeners could relate to. The parable-story was aimed at teaching a spiritual truth via common procedures. We're told a few verses on (34-35) that Jesus "spoke all these parables" to fulfill the prophecy in Zephaniah 1:3 about speaking in parables. The common procedure of daily hiring of workers was a real, known practice. Jesus used such actual events to teach spiritual truths about the Kingdom of God, it seems, according to verses 34-35.
    – Anne
    Commented Jun 30, 2021 at 14:47
  • Excellent answer - good points and well-expressed. +1.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jun 30, 2021 at 21:27

In order to answer your question, we need to establish if Jesus was using a parable to make a point. Go back to Matthew 13 where Jesus used a parable about a farmer sowing seeds. His audience was a large crowd of people. Indeed, the crowd was so large Jesus had to put out in a boat from the shore. Then the disciples asked Jesus

Why do you speak to the people in parables? He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. “ (Matthew 13: 10-11).

From this point on in Jesus’ ministry, when He spoke in parables, He explained them only to His disciples. But those who had continually rejected His message were left in their spiritual blindness to wonder as to His meaning.

Therefore, when Jesus was speaking to his disciples in Matthew chapter 20, he used a parable. No doubt it was a common event for men to congregate early each morning searching for employment and farmers would select men to come and work for them in their fields or vineyards. Jesus’ disciples would be familiar with the scene as depicted by Jesus. Jesus was likening the kingdom of heaven to a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers.

It matters not whether the landowner literally had to recruit more workers at 9 a.m. and 12 noon and then at 3 p.m. The point of the parable is that regardless of how long you and I spend in the service of God bringing in the harvest of people, our reward is the same. My twin sister was employed by the landowner in 1979 but I didn’t get the invitation till 1996. All that matters is that we enter the service of our Lord and joyfully do His bidding till He sees fit to call us home. We will be paid “what is right”.

The message in verse 16, “the last will be first, and the first last,” is that no matter how long or how hard a believer works during his lifetime, the reward of eternal life will be the same given to all—an eternity of bliss in heaven in the presence of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.


“Why didn't the laborers in Mat 20:7 run into the landowner earlier?” There is no clear answer in the text of the story. In response to the landowner’s query, the laborers themselves explain that “no one hired us” (Mt 20:7). This answer in and of itself holds much food for thought.

The parable of the laborers reflects the nature of God’s vineyard, where the work has been started by others (Jn 4:37-38) and where individuals or groups are called to join at different points and times of the day. This timeline is representative and can be considered from the perspective of an individual lifespan or in terms of the progression of groups down through history. Each group or individual may be called to join the work at a different time, but the wage is the same for all.

As it is written: “The one who had gathered much did not have too much, and the one who had gathered little did not have too little.” – 2 Cor 8:15

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