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To Labor Is to Rest: How Divine Order Works

Jul 25, 2008
In Matthew 20:1-16, we find an interesting parable that many find confusing and problematic. This selection is the story of the landowner who paid his field workers the same salary when they worked in his vineyard, regardless of how much time they put in. But from a metaphysical understanding, the story is rich with practical applications for spiritual growth.

There are a few curiosities I want to point out before I go from the literal to the metaphysical. The literal perspective leaves us a little inorganic when we explain the landowner's treatment of the laborers and his feeling about them.

Verse 1: Come unto me all of you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. This is what the Christ guaranteed us if we follow His teachings. To labor is to rest -- rest in the understanding that all of our hard work pays spiritual dividends when we seek to know the Christ of us.

Verse 2: the usual daily wage - The denarius was the typical wage. Today's equivalent is 25 cents.

Verse 3: He went out about 9 o'clock. Generally work began at 6 a.m., so 9 a. m. would have been the third hour. He went out a second time at noon and again at three and finally at five; 12 noon is the sixth hour, 3 is the ninth hour, and 5 is the eleventh hour (the commonly held belief is that the 11th hour means the last minute, with time running out, etc.)

Verse 7: He hires the 'eleventh hour group' and mentions nothing about their wages. He simply tells them to "go and work in my vineyard."

Verse 8: All of the workers were paid at the end of the day. This would have been in accordance with Leviticus 19:13b, 'Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight.' The landowner paid the last workers first and then paid those who been hired first. So those who worked all day witnessed how much those were paid who worked less hours than they did.

Verses 10-11: The workers who were hired first believed they would earn more, yet they received the same amount as those who came on at the end of the day. If this story is taken literally, you can see the issue here. The laborers who put in a full day's work didn't receive any more pay than those who only worked one hour (from 5 to 6 p.m.). It just doesn't seem fair, does it? Some scholars speculate that those hired later were more experienced and deserved to be paid the same. Others reason that those hired later performed different work of a higher nature which justified their pay. No matter how you look at it, the literal interpretation is fraught with inequities.

Verse 15: When the workers who had been on the job the full day objected to the inequity in treatment, the landowner simply replied, 'Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?' The landowner explains that he has paid the first group according to his fairness and justice (v.17) and the laborers coming in later according to his good will and generosity (v.15). And then in verse 16 says, as a way of explanation, "So the last will be first, and the first will be last."

What's interesting about this is if we go back to Matthew 19:30 (which is the end of the conversation Jesus has with His disciples regarding the rich young ruler) Jesus says, "but many who are first will be last, and the last will be first." In Matthew 20:16 He uses the same tact but reverses the clauses, "So the last will be first, and the first will be last."

Taking this passage literally, it appears that Jesus is being a bit cavalier as He shares the story, and that He endorses the landowner's unfair treatment of the workers. But let's take a look at a more spiritual meaning of the parable!

It should come as no surprise that, metaphysically, this complete story happens in our consciousness. Without being too laborious - excuse the pun, let's discover what this story means at a higher level of interpretation.

20:1 - For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. The original wording says the, "kingdom of heaven is like this." There's no comparison of the kingdom to an anthropomorphic being. The metaphysical interpretation of the main characters and concepts follows:

The kingdom of God is the Absoluteness, Is-ness, and Beingness of God. The 'kingdom of heaven,' on the other hand, refers to our conscious awareness of our innate divinity.

The vineyard represents the domain of structured truth principles of which we are invited to partake, so we can enjoy the fruits of adding to our spiritual understanding.

The laborers refer to our thoughts, intentions, and beliefs.

The landowner is our Christ Consciousness.

The 'usual daily wage' symbolizes the blessings we receive when we pay attention to divine guidance. The income is the same for everyone. It comes in the form of divine ideas, inner peace, radiant health, confidence, and so on!

Because this parable describes how Divine Order works, here is the significance of the last is first, first is last -- and three tips for your spiritual growth:

1. Practice Patience and Nonjudgmentalness. If we are patient and trusting, even when outer appearances tell us otherwise, we will receive the "usual wage" (the manifested good we desire). The 11th hour signifies the point at which we let God and let go.

2. Practice the Presence. This whole vineyard story describes how Divine Order works! It is a three step process: Mind, Idea, and Expression. When we 'practice the Presence,' we recognize our oneness with our Christ Self at every level of our being. If we 'practice the Presence,' Divine Ideas will flow. In the ideation process, it is a well-known fact that the most effective ideas usually come last. So the first ideas we have become the catalysts which bring us the "Aha's" we need to bring our good into reality.

3. Practice Perseverance. Spirit encourages us to stick with it instead of becoming lukewarm in our Truth walk, which is represented by those laborers who were idle at noon. Jesus is simply clarifying for us to follow the invitation of our Christ Consciousness to harvest our divine ideas in accordance with Divine Order, no matter when our ideas show up (morning, noon, or night); then we canrest in the assurance that we have the wherewithal to manifest anything we desire.
About the Author
Drs. Bil & Cher Holton are Spiritual Leaders at Unity Spiritual Life Center in Durham, NC, where they practice positive, practical, progressive Christianity. Visit their website at Unity Spiritual Life Center and sign up to receive a complimentary 4-week e-course.
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