A full day’s work or an hour’s final contribution? Should the wage be the same? A balance-sheet mindset might say that payment must be counted by time or product. But the Savior of the World, who paid the highest price ever paid for the most important ransom, disagreed. In the parable of Laborers in the Vineyard, He taught that people are more important than the burdens, heat, or produce, and all should be treated with compassion.
The Burdens of Vineyard and Beyond
“For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard” (Matthew 20:1). Like so many of Christ’s parables, the story involved a setting His listeners would easily understand, but was not really about that setting.
It is about all of his followers at the time and extends to all of us who have borne, now bear, or will bear the burdens of earth. Jeffrey R. Holland said that the parables are opportunities to “‘lift up your eyes’ to see heavenly things.”1
The Master hired His first laborers at our equivalent of 6:00 a.m. He returned and hired additional laborers at what would be 9:00 a.m., 12:00 noon, 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m.
For bearing the burdens, the first group was promised a penny for the day. The additional groups were told, “whatsoever is right I will give you.”
When all returned at 6:00 p.m., every man was given a penny. The 6:00 a.m. group were angry: “These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.” The 5:00 group may have been shocked into silence.
Elder Holland continued in this talk to explain that in the Savior’s time most families struggled to live on one individual’s daily wage. Those sent out early were fortunate; they did not have to worry all day.
As later groups were sent out, others could relax, but expected less. The 5:00 group would have been desperate. Elder Holland told of the burdens in their hearts.
Anything will be better than nothing, which is what they have had so far. Then as they gather for their payment, they are stunned to receive the same as all the others! How awestruck they must have been and how very, very grateful! Surely never had such compassion been seen in all their working days (emphasis in original).
They had never experienced the infinite compassion of Christ; nor had those who heard the parable. They needed to hear it, and so do we. The Savior has always known and responded to the burdens and needs of individuals.
Burdens for a Spot of Earth
In this parable, the entire earth is the Lord’s vineyard and its people are laborers. The burdens and needs of all are worthy of His understanding and compassion. Harvest is exaltation and eternal life.
Dallin H. Oaks explained that the important issue is not what has been stacked in barns, but what the laborers have become. The burdens of labor and harvest are temporary; people’s development is eternal.2
Respected Christian author C.S. Lewis explained in The Problem of Pain3 that “God intends to give us what we need, not what we now think we want.” Lewis continued, “the only real treasure” is Christ, who offers himself freely to all who seek Him.
A beloved hymn expresses the responsibility of all Christ’s laborers (in text by Mary Brown [1861-1930]).
There’s surely somewhere a lowly place/In earth’s harvest fields so wide Where I may labor through life’s short day/ For Jesus, the Crucified. So trusting my all to thy tender care,/ And knowing thou lovest me, I’ll do thy will with a heart sincere:/ I’ll be what you want me to be.4
Boundless Compassion for All
Our quest as laborers is to fulfill that commitment. Christ has asked us to bear the burdens of others, as we know He has done. Elder Ulisses Soares helped us understand,
The Savior acted compassionately toward all who would come unto Him—without distinction—and most especially toward those who most needed His help . . . He extended His merciful hand to those who needed relief from their burdens, both physically and spiritually.
Elder Soares added, “[Christ’s] acts of compassion were “everyday expressions of the reality of His pure love for God and His children and His abiding desire to help them.”5
As Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf has explained, compassion is one of the greatest gifs of our Father in Heaven, and “a fundamental characteristic of who we are as a people.” He continued, “Disciples of Christ throughout all ages of the world have been distinguished by their compassion.”6
Many laborers in the Lord’s vineyard are 3:00 or 5:00 joiners. Referring again to President Oaks’ talk about becoming, we find a modern metaphor: “We do not obtain our heavenly reward by punching a time clock.”
Elder Oaks informed us that the Lord wants us each to become the individual He knows we can be. But the timing, like the process, will differ.
He continued, “Many who come in the eleventh hour have been refined and prepared by the Lord in ways other than formal employment in the vineyard.”
Though joining in the final hours, their development is comparable to those who have labored with the burdens throughout the heat of daily life; they have “qualified for the same reward.” He concluded, “[Christ’s] concern is for the faith at which you finally arrive, not the hour of the day in which you got there.”
What more assurance could any laborer want than the testimony of these apostles?