Since we entered the 11th month of the Hebrew calendar (called Shevat) on Sunday evening, January 2, I have been thinking about the meaning of the 11th hour. Here are some definitions for this phrase from various dictionaries: "The latest possible time before it's too late." "Things that happen just in the nick of time." "Getting in just under the wire." and "Last minute." What I learned that is of most interest to me is that the phrase 11th hour has Biblical origins. It comes from the parable found in Matthew 20:1-16.
Jesus frequently used parables to convey a message to those around Him when He wanted to open their minds to God's truth and teach them about the Kingdom of Heaven. In His parables, every person and event stood for something else. Thus, these stories of Jesus would be called allegories. Such is the case in The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard found in Matthew 20. In this parable Jesus is clarifying who can enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Astute listeners should have understood that entrance into heaven is only through God's grace. God is represented by the landowner in the story, and Believers are represented by the workers.
Here are other facts to remember as we look at this parable more closely: Hired servants would have been engaged by the day and paid at the end of it. The Jewish day went from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Grape harvest usually came in the early fall. It would have been the landowner's desire to get the ripe crop harvested quickly in order to beat any rains that typically came around mid-September. He would engage workers from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. A normal day's wage for the worker was a denarius. Workers customarily stood in the town square until someone hired them, which could have taken place any time during the day.
In this parable, a few last-minute or 11th hour workers were paid the same wage as those hired early in the morning. The Bible tells us, "The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon 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...But he answered one of them, 'I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one 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 first will be last.'" (Verses 9-11, 13-16)
Consider the following conclusions I have come to from this parable:
Those converted early in life should not be jealous of those who come to salvation at the 11th hour. Eternal life is gift from God given generously to all who come to faith in Him. God's grace is extended to all who call upon His name, no matter when.
This grace that God gives is applied like His forgiveness. In God's eyes, sin is sin, and we are not judged according to the magnitude of our sin. The shed blood of Christ is applied to murderers and liars, prostitutes and thieves. His amazing grace washes us clean so that Father God sees all of us as completely pure and clean.
When there seems to be no hope for a situation in our lives, we should not be discouraged. God's timing and His ways are not ours. The Lord frequently comes to graciously offer us what we need at the 11th hour.
Now we are living in God's vineyard. He will give each of us equal opportunities to collaborate with Him in the harvest. No matter how long we labor, all of us will be rewarded with eternal life in heaven. This should be a great encouragement for us. So, "keep yourselves in God's love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life." (Jude 1:20)
Joan E. Mathias