I’ve been thinking about late bloomers lately, since I’m one myself.
Jesus’ parable of the vineyard workers is about late bloomers (Matthew 20: 1-16).
Jesus comes right out and says what this parable is about at the very beginning: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like this.” (In Jesus’ terminology, “The Kingdom of Heaven” means “the spiritual realm.”)
(Jesus referred to the Kingdom of Heaven repeatedly during his career. Here’s one well-known example: In Matthew 18:3, Jesus says that we must become like little children if we expect to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. This would include cultivating “childlike” qualities such as openness, innocence, trust, and love. There’s nothing namby-pamby about any of this, because innocence = wildness. To live within the spiritual realm we must literally become dehypnotized, de-civilized, deprogrammed.)
The parable goes like this:
There was a vineyard owner who needed some workers. So he went out at dawn (people got up early in those days) to the marketplace and rounded up some husky young fellows, promising to pay them a silver coin for a full day’s work. He must have had a lot of work to do, because he went back to the marketplace and hired more workers at 9, noon, and 3. He must have had a huge vineyard, because he went back one final time at 5 pm and hired some stragglers to work for him. “Why are you standing around wasting the whole day when you could be working for me?” he asked the layabouts. “Nobody hired us,” they replied. (The parable leaves unexplained where these guys were at dawn, 9, 12, and 3.) “Well, get your ass over to the vineyard and get to work!” the vineyard owner told them.
When it came time to pay the workers at the end of the day, the vineyard owner paid the last workers to be hired -- who had only worked for an hour -- a silver coin each. The other workers thought this meant they would get paid more than the agreed-upon silver coin, since they had put in so many more hours. But no. The vineyard owner paid each worker, no matter how long they had worked, one silver coin. The workers got pissed. “We’ve been working out there in the hot sun all day, yet you didn’t pay us any more than those lazy bums who only worked for an hour in the cool of the evening.”
The vineyard owner replied, “Hey, I paid you what I said I was going to pay you. Are you jealous because I was generous to the men who worked fewer hours? It’s my money, and I’ll pay them whatever I want!”
And so the workers went back to the marketplace and started a union.
Jesus concludes the parable with the cryptic words, “So those who are last will be first, and those who are first will be last.” To my understanding, this means, “Don’t expect human standards of logic and fairness to prevail within the Kingdom of Heaven. We’re not talking about space/time reality here. The accustomed rules no longer apply. People who become spiritually awakened late in life reap the same rewards as those who are awakened early.”
I take comfort in this. As one who has stumbled and bumbled my way, decade after decade, through certain key aspects of life, it’s good to know that the past doesn’t really matter. For every spiritually awakened individual, there are thousands who are waking up right now. At long last the crooked places are being made straight, and things here on Earth are really starting to get interesting.