A parable is a figure of speech, an extended metaphor, a story using common actions or circumstances designed to illustrate a spiritual truth, a principle or a moral lesson. The word parable comes from the Greek word parabole, which means to place beside or side by side for the purpose of comparison. A parable can usually be identified by the use of the word “like.” This was the method of teaching Jesus used most often.
Matthew 19:27-30 Peter then asked, “See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?” Jesus said, “In the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” Jesus’ answer sets the stage for a unique and controversial parable in Matthew 20:1-16.
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.” The first workers hired agreed to work for one denarius per day, and started work at six in the morning. At nine, the landowner hired more workers, and again at noon, three in the afternoon, and also at the last hour of the work day. When the day was finished, each man received a single denarius. Those who had started early in the morning, and thought that they should receive more than the others, complained. “These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.” But he answered one of them and said, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil [are you resentful] because I am good?” The landowner reminded them of their original agreement. Much like Jesus’ words to Peter in Matthew 19:30, the parable ends with this saying: “So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.”
Space prohibits a thorough examination of the possible implications of this parable. Certainly Jesus answered Peter’s question. He likely didn’t understand what Jesus said at the time, but years later, Peter wrote about the future “… inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven…” (1 Peter 1:4). Peter also was the first to take the message of salvation through Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, and realized, speaking to Cornelius and his household in Acts 10:34, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons.” (KJV) The parable Jesus had taught about every worker getting equal pay began to make more and more sense to Peter. He remembered Jesus’ words, “So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.”
Similar to the parable message of equal wages for all of the workers, Colossians 1:12 reveals that God the Father “…has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light.” Romans 8:17 teaches that all Christians are “children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” Joint heirs all share equally. Although Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords, Hebrews 2:11 says, “He is not ashamed to call them brethren.” Though mind boggling, Jesus was trying to convey that in the Kingdom, there is perfect justice and equality. “I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things?”
This parable cannot mean that God calls a lot of people but keeps only a few. God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4) God does not want for any people to die unsaved, “but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) Jesus commanded His disciples to preach God’s Word to everyone everywhere in the world, but not all will believe, not all will choose His way. In that sense, He calls everyone and gives them the opportunity to respond, but to be chosen, people must act obediently according to God’s Word in response to the call.