Eleventh-hour Men

In the gospel Matthew a parable is told by Jesus to his disciples which by the human sense of justice has often been regarded as a stumbling-block, because it demonstrates the divine economy, not the human. The story is of a "householder," or owner of a vineyard, who went out early in the morning to seek laborers. He found men standing in the market-place waiting to be engaged for the day's work. These he sent into his vineyard, after making an agreement with them for a certain sum of money for their day's work, namely, a penny. After three hours he returned to the market-place and there saw others, whom he likewise hired. He continued to return and hire at intervals throughout the day, and even "about the eleventh hour" he found others still standing idle, and inquired of them, "Why stand ye here all the day idle?" Their answer was, "Because no man hath hired us." They also were sent into the vineyard, with the assurance, "Whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive."

When the day's work was done and the workers received their reward, each man was given a penny,—the man who had worked twelve hours and the man who had worked one. Then those who had worked twelve hours grumbled, and their murmur has come down to the present time: "Thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day." And the gentle rebuke was simply given: "Friend, I do thee no wrong." Mortal mind, slow to perceive real issues but quick to judge, says here: "These men were justified. They had worked hard and long. The others had simply stood still in the market-place all day." Ah, but that was perhaps the most difficult thing they could have done, while others were called to work, while others were being chosen, given opportunities for accomplishment! Do we suppose that the sun did not beat fiercely down on the rough stones of the market-place, or that it was at all pleasant to stand there? Let us think of the opportunities for discouragement afforded by those eleven hours of waiting; think of the patience required to stand there and wait, and the faith; for it was the eleventh hour, we must remember! Others had been chosen again and again from among them, and yet there they simply stood and waited for their work. Evidently the men who had worked all day would not have been equal to the test, for they grumbled and were impatient and envious over the good fortune, as they considered it, of their fellow workers.

Oh, the sweetness and the joy and gratefulness of the summons! These eleventh-hour men did not even inquire what they should receive for their labor. The master had promised that they should receive whatever was right, and they accepted without question his invitation. They had achieved a measure of patience and steadfast faith which indeed merited a full reward; they had tilled the soil of human will and desire, and were ready for the blessing. May those of us who seemingly have to stand still in the market-place and wait through weary hours of self-correction and discipline, have courage and patience and faith, that "having done all," we may be able "to stand."

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Our Church
February 20, 1915

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