The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Bishop Knecht’s Commentary on Matthew 20:1-16

Posted by Dim Bulb on August 5, 2015

[Mat. 20:1–16]

AMONG the many parables addressed by our Lord to the Jews occurs the following:

“The kingdom of heaven is like to a husbandman, who went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. 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 (1), and saw others standing idle in the market-place (2). And he said to them: ‘Go you also into my vineyard, and I will give you what shall be just.’ And they went. Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour and did in like manner. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing, and said to them: ‘Why stand you here all the day idle?’ They answered: ‘Because no man hath hired us.’ He said to them: ‘Go you also into my vineyard.’

1. The third hour. About nine o’ clock in the forenoon.
2.  The market-place. Labourers out of employment were accustomed to wait in the market-place to be hired by those who wanted them.

“Now when evening was come, the lord of the vineyard said to his steward: ‘Call the labourers, and pay them their hire, beginning from the last even to the first.’ When, therefore, they came who had come about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first also came, they thought that they should have received more, and they likewise received every man a penny. However, when they received it, they murmured against the master of the house, saying: ‘These last have worked but one hour, and thou hast made them equal to us, that have borne the burden of the day and the heat.’ But he addressed one of them: ‘Friend, I do thee no wrong; didst thou not agree with me for a penny? Take what is thine (3) and go thy way. I will also give to this last even as to thee. Or is it not lawful for me to do what I will? Is thy eye evil because I am good?’ ” Then Jesus concluded the parable, saying: “So (4) shall the last be First (5), and the first, last; for many are called (6), but few are chosen.”

3. What is thine. You have a right to claim as your own that which I promised to pay you.
4. So. As in this parable.
5. The last be first. The first to receive their reward. But many receive no reward at all, for many are called (to believe), but few (in comparison with the number called) are chosen (to be saved).
6. Many are called. He said this to warn the apostles against falling into a state of false security on account of His promises, and looking on their reception into heaven as a certainty. Many who, according to time, were the first to be called to follow Christ, might be in the very lowest rank of those judged by Him, for the time of our call signifies nothing; it is only final perseverance which will avail us. Judas was among the first to be called, and yet he lost his soul!


So shall the last be first.” These words are addressed in the first place to the Jews, who ought to have been the very first to enter into Christ’s new kingdom, because the promises were made to them, and they (the many) were all called. In the next place and in a wider sense they are addressed to all men and have a double meaning. a) Many of those who, according to time, are the first to be called, will be the last to receive their reward, having to suffer a long time in Purgatory in expiation of their laxity and lukewarmness on earth; whereas those called later may, on account of their zeal, be received sooner into the kingdom of heaven. b) Many who on earth were esteemed by others to be first, and were first by reason of their position, will enjoy the lowest degree of heavenly happiness; whereas many who were despised and thought very little of on earth will receive in heaven the highest degree of reward.

In the parable the master of the house is God: the market-place is the world: the vineyard is God’s kingdom on earth, the Church: the steward is our Lord Jesus Christ: the labourers in the vineyard are the faithful, who are called by God to believe the one true faith and to live in accordance with it: the day of work is the life-time of men on earth; and the pence signify the eternal reward of the Vision of God in heaven. Almighty God calls us at different times to work in His vineyard. Some He calls in the early morning, as little children; others, boys and girls, He calls at the sixth hour; others He calls when they are full-grown men and women; and many He calls at the eleventh hour, quite in the evening of life, or old age. The paying of the wages takes place at the close of the day, at the end of our lives, when, after death, those whom God called late in life will receive an everlasting reward as well as those called earlier, if only they, like the labourers in the vineyard, obeyed God’s voice when He did call them, and worked with perseverance, living according to their faith, even unto the end of the day.

Those called at the eleventh hour were sinners, for till they were called, they lived without God, and neither had faith, nor practised good works. The parable, therefore, teaches us that even the sinner will be saved if, at the end of his life, he opens his heart to God’s grace and is converted. Salvation does not depend on when we are called (for that depends entirely on God), but it does depend on how we obey that call, and whether we persevere to the end.

The parable also shows us God’s Goodness and Mercy, and ought to be a great comfort to the converted sinner, and teach him never to lose hope and give way to despair.

Furthermore, the parable teaches us the necessity and the merit of good works. God calls us into His vineyard on purpose that we may labour for His glory and save our souls by observing His commandments, avoiding sin and doing good, by faithfully fulfilling our duties as Christians in that state of life in which He, of His good pleasure, has put us. He who does not thus do his duty is standing idle and sins by sloth. By our labours for God’s glory, i. e. by our good works, we merit heaven, because God, in His goodness, has promised us heaven as our reward. Even though the good which we do is not our own work, being at the same time the work of grace, Almighty God has pledged Himself to reward us for it just as if it were all our own work.

Who are the chosen? All men are called, because our Lord Jesus Christ died for all, and “God will have all men to be saved” (1 Tim. 2:4), and gives to all men sufficient grace to be saved. The chosen are those who really attain to heaven. The name of “chosen” is given to them, because God, in His eternal counsel, and foreknowing their correspondence with grace, has chosen them for His kingdom of heaven out of the multitude of those whom He calls. Thus all those are among the chosen who, by corresponding with grace, make a good use of their calling and of the graces which God gives them. The number of the chosen is, our Lord says, small in comparison with the multitude of those called; for many—very many—of those called are lost by their own fault. This is a solemn and terrible truth! “Wherefore, brethren, labour the more that by good works you may make sure your calling and election” (2 Pet. 1:20).

The hatefulness of envy. The envious sin 1. against brotherly love, because they do not heartily wish well to their neighbour, but grudge him the good things that he has. They sin 2. against the love of God, for in their hearts they find fault with Him, saying to themselves: “It is not just that God should give such and such things to that man!” Thus an envious man attacks the rights of God’s own Majesty.


You wish indeed to be among the chosen. But is that possible, if you are lukewarm and slothful in the service of God? Do you not stand all the day idle? You cannot excuse yourself by saying that you have not been called, for you were called by God when you were quite a little child to work in His vineyard, to serve Him and to labour for the salvation of your soul. From this day forward try to be more zealous in God’s service.

You have no cause to murmur or to be envious when God gives to another as much as or more than He gives to you. But, if you are envious, apply to yourself the reproach which the master uttered against the labourers: “Art thou evil and envious, because God is good to thy brother?” (Overberg.)


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