KEY VERSE: V.16. So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.
From this parable, we learn how "the last" person can become "first" (19:30)-by free grace. The parable begins with a typical scene and introduces atypical elements to surprise the reader and make a powerful point about the kingdom of heaven.
1-2 The normal working day was ten hours or so, not counting breaks. The landowner in the parable finds his first set of workers about 6 A.M. and agrees to pay each one a denarius-the normal wage for a foot soldier or day laborer.
3-7 There were twelve "hours" from dawn to sundown. The third hour (v.3) would be about 9:00 A.M, the sixth about 12:00 noon, and the eleventh about 5: P.M. The marketplace would be the central square, where all kinds of business was done and casual labor hired. The third-hour workers are promised "whatever is right"; and, trusting the landowner's integrity, they work on that basis. The last group were standing around because no one had hired them.
8-12 Laborers were customarily paid at the end of each day (cf. Lev. 19:13). The foreman is told to pay each worker the standard day laborer's wage. Who gets paid first is crucial: it is only because the last hired receive a full day's wage that those first hired expect to get more than they bargained for. They "grumbled against" the owner because he has been generous to others and merely just to them. They have borne "the heat of the day" (v.12, either direct sunlight or hot wind), which could drive workers from the field; and, though fairly paid, they feel unfairly treated because others who worked much less received what they did.
13-15 The landowner insists, in a mild rebuke, that he is not cheating anyone. He has paid the agreed wage. Should he want to pay others more, that is his business. Provided he has been just in all his dealings, does he not have the right to do what he wants with his money? These rhetorical questions (vv.13b-15) show that God's great gifts, simply because they are God's, are distributed, not because they are earned, but because he is gracious. In the kingdom of God, the driving force is not merit and ability (as in the world) but grace.
16 Jesus makes a final statement that God's grace makes some who are last first.
[NIV BIBLE COMMENTARY Volume 2: New Testament].
JESUS IS LORD.