Jesus is talking about the Kingdom of God and he tells this story about the eccentric hiring practices of a particular vineyard owner.
The owner goes out early in the morning when the harvest is ready and he hires a whole bunch of people offering to pay them a fair days wage for a fair days work. The workers gladly accept and get right to it.
Then the owner goes back out at 9AM and hires a bunch of other people offering to pay them "whatever is right." These workers gladly accept and get right to it.
He goes out and repeats the whole thing again at Noon, then at 3PM, and then one last time at 5PM.
When the day is done and it is time to pay out the owner gives the full daily wage to each and every person who came to work. It doesn't matter if you got there at 5PM, 3PM, Noon, 9AM, or so stinking early that you don't even know what time it is -- everybody gets the same wage.
Which is a delight to the people who came into the vineyard at 5PM, and apparently an affront to the folks who have been then since o-dark-early.
It is a kindergartners favorite complaint: It is not fair!
It is the most basic sense of justice in this world -- fairness. I had to work longer and harder than that guy for the same amount of money and it is not fair!
And here is the thing about the Kingdom of God: It is not fair. It is grace.
If our salvation had anything to do with us getting a fair treatment for the things we've done, well, then we'd all be in trouble. So our entry into the Kingdom of God has nothing to do with the work we put in. Instead, it has everything to do with God's lavish, extravagant welcome. That is, with God's grace.
And if we really get it, and are really a part of that Kingdom work, well, then our response to somebody else who has come in to work on the Lord's behalf wouldn't be to complain. No, our response would be to celebrate! That is the Kingdom of God. A Kindgom of grace, extravagance, and welcome.
The Labourers in the Vineyard
‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the labourers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard.
When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the market-place; and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went.
When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same.
And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?” They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.”
When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the labourers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.”
When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage.
And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.”
But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?”
So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’