Day laborers in the ancient world had a hard lot in life. They were powerless to secure stable work, and sometimes struggled more than slaves, because was no guarantee they would have work to meet their family’s needs on a given day.
So they hung out in the marketplace waiting for someone to come hire them. When they found work, they worked from sunup to sundown, twelve hot hours in the Palestinian sun.
So this is the setting for Jesus’ story, in which a landowner goes to the market place at dawn, and gets some workers who agree to work for a denarius, a day’s wages. Then he hires more workers, hour after hour. At sundown they line up for their pay, newest workers first. The latecomers get a denarius—a day’s wages—so the others assume they will get more. But even those who started at dawn get the same wage.
And that doesn’t seem fair, right? Why would a manager do this? Listen in to Leah’s message, below, or read her notes for more.