"So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the laborers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first" (Matthew 20:8).
This parable has long caused perplexity, not only among the workers in the parable, but also among readers ever since. Why would the Lord teach that wages paid for a given type of work should be the same for one hour's work as for twelve? His only explanation was that it was the owner's right to do what he wanted with his own money, and that "the last shall be first, and the first last" (v.16).
He also pointed out to the complaining workmen that he had completely fulfilled his contract with them. Early in the morning, this group of laborers had negotiated their own terms with him, and "he had agreed with the laborers for a penny a day" (v.2). Those he hired later in the day had said nothing at all about pay, and willing to trust the lord of the vineyard to treat them fairly. This most probably means that the owner had first approached the early morning workers on the same basis, but they were unwilling to work without a contract, negotiated on their own terms.
This is the difference. The first group insisted on a firm contract, and the owner therefore insisted on honoring it. The others worked by faith, trusting in the lord of the vineyard, knowing him to be a man of integrity and justice. Furthermore, they would have been willing to work all day long on this same basis, but they had no opportunity. They needed the job, and the owner, knowing their needs and their willing hearts, decided to pay them on the basis of what they would have done, had they had the opportunity.
In any case, the parable surely teaches us that our heavenly rewards are not based on quantity of services rendered, but on quality, with full account taken of opportunities, motivation, and trust in the Lord. HMM