Jesus used stories about everyday life to convey deep messages. It's important to explore and understand the context of the message. What is so amazing is that they cross space and time and cultures. And we can read them at one time in our life and see one message or perhaps not understand at all, but after we have a greater context, we see new meaning.
Recently I was reminded of the parable of the field workers at harvest time. A landowner passed a group of men standing, presumably in the normal place that field workers waited to be hired. With much work waiting to be done, they were still standing in the middle of the day. Toward the end of the day, the landowner saw them again and decided to ask why they were not working. "No one would hire us," they replied. He sent them to his fields to work the remainder of the day.
At the end of the day, the landowner directed that these last workers be paid first. The workers who were there all day, were paid last. All were paid the same wage. The workers who had been there all day were outraged. The landowner chastised them.
As the moral of the story, Jesus said that in heaven the first would be last and the last would be first.
Through the years I have heard many interpretations of this story. Most common is that our works gain us nothing in God's eyes. But if you study the whole of Jesus' teachings, this cannot be correct. We reap what we sow. We are our brother's keeper. Heal the sick and feed the poor.
We need to consider the whole of Jesus' teachings and all that we have learned about the human condition. If it was harvest time, with much work to do, why would any worker be left behind?
The field bosses go to where 20 or 30 hopeful workers gather each morning hoping to be chosen to work the harvest for a day, a week or maybe more. Recall the playground kickball team selection. The biggest, fastest and strongest are chosen first. The boss might look at the guy with a crooked nose and believe he is a fighter so he may cause trouble. The littlest guy is always picked last. The guy with holes in his shoes is dismissed as not able to travel the rough terrain. Boss after boss passed them by. They were not chosen.
Still they waited. They waited as the mid day sun beat down on them. And with each passing hour, there was less hope of being hired. Still they waited through the heat of the day. They stood waiting. Many bosses must have passed them more than once but finally this ONE, asked "Why are you not working?" And when he heard their answer, he understood.
The little guy is never chosen first. The guy with holes in his shoes knows how to make the best of all that he has. The guy with the crooked nose is not a fighter. His daddy broke his nose in a stupid drunken rage. The landowner saw something that none of the bosses before him saw and he himself had missed earlier in the day.
The landowner righted the wrong done to these men. They would have worked all day for him, had they been given the chance.
They were rewarded for their diligence. They were rewarded for their heart and for having faith - beyond reason - that they would be hired. They remained ready to serve long after most were already chosen and most would give up hope of being hired.
And what of the workers who were angry? We should all applaud the righting of wrong. They thought they were above the others. The first shall be last. The last shall be first.