A Difficult Parable

The Parable Of The Penny

Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?—Matthew 20:15


The Parable of the Penny is an illustration Jesus gave to his disciples about the Kingdom of Heaven class, the church in the flesh.

In this narrative an owner of a vineyard went out one morning to hire workers for his harvest field. As he was walking he met a group of laborers and sent them into his vineyard, agreeing to pay them a penny for a day’s work. During the third hour of the same day he passed a hiring hall and observed a group of men standing around waiting for employment. He invited them to go out to his vineyard as well, stating that he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day. Again, at the sixth and ninth hours, he continue finding and hiring laborers to work in his field.

At the eleventh hour, when he saw still another group of men standing idly around, he approached them and asked why they were not working. When they responded that no one had hired them the owner encouraged this final set of workers to join the others in the vineyard.

In the evening the owner directed his steward to call all the men together and pay them, beginning with the last group first. When the men who were hired at the eleventh hour received a penny those who were hired first assumed they would receive much more. However they also received a penny. In their anger, the first hour laborers murmured against the owner, claiming they received the same amount in payment as those who worked but one hour. He informed the laborers he did them no wrong; that he had kept his promise. They were hired to work for one penny, and at the end of the day that was what they received. The owner then told the murmurers to take their payment and leave, and that the last would be first and the first last.

First Advent Application

This parable shows that it was the owner’s desire to pay all of the workers the same amount. Our Lord presented this lesson to his followers to illustrate the murmuring by some members of the church at his second advent, during the harvest period of the Gospel age. Although this narrative seems to refer to an end time picture of the Gospel church, we suggest it might also have a further application to the nation of Israel at the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

At that time there was indignation against Christ by his Jewish brethren, primarily motivated by the scribes and Pharisees. Even though the Jewish nation rejected, murmured against, and ultimately crucified our Lord, in contrast the publicans and sinners heard him gladly (Matt. 9:10-13).

The prophet Daniel reveals that the children of Israel were waiting in full expectation for the Messiah at his first advent (Dan. 9:24-27). When Jesus began his ministry, he preached to his Jewish brethren that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand and he offered them the initial privilege of entering into the high calling arrangement. However, the Jewish nation as a whole, rejected this opportunity to become part of the royal priesthood class, and thus the glorious prospect of becoming joint-heirs with Christ was ultimately given to the gentiles (John 1:11; Acts 15:14).

The scribes and Pharisees believed that they were the only ones faithful to God. Thus they murmured amongst themselves that if the publicans and sinners could obtain the privilege of discipleship, then they, as religious leaders, should be granted something even better than that.

Although both the leaders of fleshly Israel at the first advent and some of his spiritual family at the second advent murmured against the Lord, the crux of the lesson applies largely to the feet members of the gospel church.

Second Advent Application

We do not apply this parable to the entire gospel age. The Apostles, who were among the first workers of the vineyard as the foundations of the new Jerusalem, could not be among those who murmured. Also, they did not live nearly 2,000 years until the eleventh hour, or evening time, of this parable.

A series of prominent events take place during our Lord’s second advent, including the beginning of the gospel age harvest (Rev. 14:13-20), the raising of the sleeping saints (1 Cor. 15:50-54), and the instantaneous resurrection of the faithful ones alive at this time (1 Thess. 4:13-18). All of these must precede the ending of this present evil world and the inauguration of the glorious kingdom reign.

From Matthew 20:3-7 we learn the owner hired workers during the third, sixth, ninth, and eleventh hours. These were never promised a penny for their labor. The third hour laborers were told they would receive whatsoever was right at the end of the day. Although the scriptures do not indicate what compensation the sixth, ninth, and eleventh hour workers would receive at the day’s end, it is implied that what was promised to the third hour workers would also be granted to the laborers who were hired afterward.

We consider the penny to be "the privilege of discipleship." Consecration to the service of the Lord is always in order regardless of the time in which it takes place or the reward which is given. When the heavenly Father accepts our consecration he promises us nothing more than the "penny" of spirit begettal.

When the owner told the third, sixth, ninth, and eleventh hour workers to labor in his harvest field without the definite promise of what their wages would be suggests a time when all the crowns for the high calling would be apportioned, and that any acceptance to this high calling would only occur to fill a vacancy. The third, sixth, ninth, and eleventh hour workers were never promised the penny, even though it was given to them in the evening. Likewise, those who made a sincere consecration to the Lord after all the crowns to the high calling were apportioned were never promised the privilege of discipleship. However, with the falling away of some under the severe testings of this harvest time, vacancies began to occur, beginning with the third hour of the gospel age harvest, and the replacement process continues even to this day. It appears reasonable that "whatsoever is right" would apply during the harvest of our Lord’s second advent, following the apportionment of the crowns, because up until this time, there had always been a crown available for every acceptable consecration.

We conclude that the third, sixth, ninth, and eleventh hours represent different intervals of time, or periods of sifting, during the harvest of the gospel age, when some make acceptable consecrations and receive the penny of spirit begettal even though they had to wait until former members of the anointed class vacated their positions in the body due to being overcharged with the cares of this world, or for unfaithfulness.

Parable Particulars

The payment of the penny, the murmuring, and the steward are other particulars of this parable we would like to further examine. The steward seems to correspond with someone who was made a ruler over the household to give meat in due season (Matt. 24:45). The steward who paid the penalty must also live during this harvest time. We believe this steward is the same as the "wise and faithful servant" who gave full encouragement to the brethren prior to his death that the harvest work had not yet ended but was still going "grandly on." Pastor Charles Taze Russell, through his writings and oral messages, taught the privilege of discipleship, the penny of spirit begettal, and the opportunity to become a part of the royal priesthood was yet available to any whose hearts were in proper accord with the heavenly Father and his beloved Son despite the seeming lateness of the hour, and thus provided the "payment" that still brings joy to the hearts of eleventh hour workers.

We are reminded in scripture that it is still harvest time and that the call for reapers in the vineyard has not yet ceased (Matt. 24:14). Until the announcement is given by the Great Company members that "the harvest is past and summer is ended" (Jer. 8:20), the eleventh hour workers still maintain the opportunity of receiving their payment before evening closes.

In Matthew 20:10-12 we read about the murmuring of the first hour workers who labored long and received the same payment as those who were hired hours afterward. We believe that the first hired workers represent a class of people who served the Lord for many years and felt that others consecrating subsequently would not be eligible for the same reward or spirit begettal because the hour was so late. They, like the scribes and Pharisees, maintained the false reasoning that they alone maintained were entitled to the privilege of discipleship.

The fact that the eleventh hour workers received the penny indicates that the heavenly Father granted them spirit begettal. However, no murmurer who objects to God’s provisions for others can ever receive the full heavenly reward. We are reminded that the good man instructed the first hour workers to "take that thine is and go thy way," adding "is thine eye evil because I am good." It is this spirit of jealousy and the arrogant disposition of heart which leads us to conclude In summary, the admonition of "Be thou faithful unto death" (Rev. 2:10) is a source of encouragement for all the Lord’s people who are living at the close of the gospel age harvest. We believe that the door to the high calling remains ajar, and that all whose hearts are right may enter in.