“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the market-place doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ ‘Because no one has hired us,' they answered. He said to them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’ The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20:1-16)
What does Jesus mean by the 'kingdom of heaven'?The kingdom of heaven is not a physical place like a country or a city. In fact, every location or place is owned by the Supreme Being so location is part of God’s kingdom.
Furthermore, the word "kingdom" is somewhat mistranslated. The word is being translated from the Greek word, βασιλεία (basileia). This means, according to the lexicon, "not to be confused with an actual kingdom but rather the right or authority to rule over a kingdom."
In other words, Jesus is not referring to a physical place. He is referring to a particular consciousness. The consciousness where we accept the dominion of the Supreme Being. One can have this consciousness anywhere - because God has dominion over all things.
But the physical world is a place where self-centeredness is ubiquitous. Most of us in the physical world are self-centered, and this is why we are here. We are here to learn how to love.
This is why this world is a place of consequences: Where there is a consequence to every action performed with a self-centered motive ("as you sow, so shall you reap").
The spiritual world is not like the physical dimension. Unfortunately, many see the spiritual world in this way - that it is like graduating from high school and going to college - and higher grades in high school guarantee placement in college.
The spiritual world does not have these characteristics. Yes, the spiritual world is also a dimension, separate from the physical world. But the spiritual world is quite simply, the dimension where the prevailing consciousness is love and humility - whereas the physical world is the dimension where the prevailing consciousness if self-centeredness.
The Supreme Being loves each and every one of us unconditionally - regardless of what we have done or achieved. Thinking that God loves one of us more than another would be like asking a father which of his sons he loves more. It is a nonsensical question.
The kingdom of heaven is the consciousness where each person takes refuge in God and exchanges love with Him. And the only qualification is to humbly accept His unconditional love.
What does Jesus' landowner parable mean?The key ingredients of this parable relate to the consciousness of the participants. This relates to the previous statement by Jesus regarding who will be first and who will be last.
Herein lies the secret of the parable. Many who read this parable of Jesus might focus upon the people actually working in the vineyard - and the fact that some worked all day and others worked for a few hours.
But the key to the parable is actually the relationship between the vineyard owner and each laborer:
"Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?"
"Because no one has hired us," they answered.
"You also go and work in my vineyard." The vineyard owner is showing his mercy on the workers. He is recognizing their plight of not having any work - and thus money. They had the same needs the first group had, in that they needed to earn a living. So the vineyard owner’s focus was on what they need, not how much they will work.
In the same way, some sectarian teachers might teach, ‘if you are good and go to church every Sunday, you will certainly go to heaven.’ So while their followers are going to church every Sunday, they are feeling like they are racking up the church hours - qualifying for their entrance into the spiritual world.
Meanwhile, a humble person who never went to church looks up to the sky one day, falls to his knees and says, in a humble and sincere prayer to God: “Oh compassionate God, I have no qualifications. I have sinned. I have nothing more to achieve. I simply want to come to love and serve You. Please help me.”
Such a simple prayer, said with sincerity and humility, will move this person into a position of being able to return to the consciousness of the kingdom of heaven - regardless of what faith or sect they may have joined.
Why is this about 'heaven'?As described above, the 'kingdom of heaven' isn't about a particular place. It is a consciousness. A consciousness of our relationship with God. God is heavenly. And accepting God as our everything is to enter the consciousness of heaven - where ever we may be located. This is why Jesus taught, John the Baptist taught, and Jesus' disciples taught:
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matthew 4:17)Now consider this parable of the landowner in light of our relationship with God:
Consider a person who spurns a relationship with their spouse and runs off with someone else. What would be their qualification for returning to that relationship? Would the spurned lover take the dodger back once flowers had been sent for five days in a row? Not necessarily.
However, if the dodger approached with humility and sincerity, asking with an apologetic heart, the situation might change instantly, regardless of how many flowers were sent.
Or let’s say we received two phone voicemails one day. One was from a person we talk to every day, and they chattered on about their day. The other was from a long-lost friend we hadn’t talked to in twenty years and their voice mail talked about how much they missed us.
Which of the two would we call back first?