“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4 and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ 5 So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. 6 And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’
– Matthew 20:1-7
The life of the average Christian is one of coming to and going away from God. This concept is illustrated in Martin Luther’s Explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed: “the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; Even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; In which Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all sins to me and all believers”. This concept is also illustrated in Jesus’ Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard from the twentieth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. How are these illustrations, Luther’s Explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed and Jesus’ Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16), connected? It is this connection which produces the life of the average Christian as one of “life in and out of the vineyard.”
Jesus’ Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard is also known as the Parable of the Hours. The second title is the more precise title. Why? The title “the Workers in the Vineyard” implies that it is the labor of the workers that earns them (the workers) what the owner of the vineyard gives to them. It is not. Since the workers in the parable labor in the vineyard for different amounts of time [“early in the morning” (verse 1), “about the third hour” (verse 3), “about the sixth hour and the ninth hour” (verse 5) and “about the eleventh hour” (verse 6)], it should be presumed that the owner of the vineyard would pay each worker according to the amount of time that each worker labors in the vineyard. He does not. The owner of the vineyard pays each worker the same amount [“a denarius” (see verses 2, 9 and 10)]. Therefore, the labor of the workers does not earn them what the owner of the vineyard gives to them. It appears to be only the invitation of the owner of the vineyard that earns the workers what the owner of the vineyard gives to them [“You go into the vineyard” (see verses 3 and 7)]. The labor of the workers in the vineyard appears not to be relevant to the generosity of the owner of the vineyard (see verse 15).
The Parable of the Hours is also a more precise title than the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard because the hours mentioned in the parable correspond to the alternating periods of faithfulness and faithlessness in the life of the average Christian. The faith of the average Christian is fluid, not static. Sometimes it is high. Sometimes it is low. Sometimes it is none existent. Every time the average Christian has faith, he is in the vineyard. Every time he does not, he is out of the vineyard. The average Christian may have faith “early in the morning” (verse 1), then lose it “about the third hour” (verse 3), then have it again “about the sixth hour” (verse 5), then lose it again “the ninth hour” (verse 5), then have it again “about the eleventh hour” (verse 6). This may happen throughout the average Christian’s life. And this happens because of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit moves some people to have faith and leaves others to not have faith. Only the Holy Spirit knows why. Jesus tells Nicodemus the following in the third chapter of John’s Gospel: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). Remember the words of Martin Luther in his Explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith”. It is only because of the Holy Spirit that the average Christian lives a life in and out of the vineyard. He keeps some people in the vineyard and allows others to leave. Only He knows why.
8 And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ 9 And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.” – Matthew 20:8-16