I have a special place in my heart for Jesus Christ’s parable of the day laborers.
It’s a parable we’re all familiar with: The Lord of the vineyard goes out in the early morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. He tells them he will pay them a penny wage for their work. He goes out at the third hour, and again at the sixth and ninth hours to recruit more laborers from the marketplace. Finally, at the 11th hour, he finds others idle in the market and calls them to come work.
When evening comes the Lord of the vineyard pays his workers, starting with the last and ending with the first. They each get a penny for their labor, which rankles the workers who have been there since the early morning. They say, “These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day” (Matthew 20:12).
To which the Lord replies, in essence: Look, I didn’t skimp you. You knew before you began the work that your wage would be a penny.
I love this parable because I come from a long line of 11th-hour laborers. As a child, I had no idea that my grandparents weren’t active in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They attended LDS Church meetings when they came to visit us, and they certainly knew the scriptures. It was only at the age of 8, when visiting my cousins, that we learned the truth: Grandma and Grandpa smoked. This was shocking news to a kid who knew all about the Word of Wisdom and Just Say No.
So the cousins and I took it upon ourselves to educate our grandparents. We collected paper plates from the kitchen and plastered them with No Smoking signs. We marched out in single file and surrounded my grandparents' trailer home. With signs held high we chanted, “People that smoke, are people that’ll choke!”
You can imagine how well that went over. It was certainly one of the more controversial moments in our family history. Thankfully our grandparents forgave us. Decades later, quite literally in the 11th hour of their lives, they came back to full activity in time to see my husband and I sealed in the temple.
It’s strange how history repeats itself. My grandparents' only son, my Uncle Terry, took a similar path. I didn’t know Terry much growing up. He was a mountain man, hippy and ofttime-hermit who flashed in and out of our lives for many years. He watched his five sisters marry in Mormon temples and stay married against incredible odds, but he took no part in it.
And then like a miracle, he reappeared at family gatherings, snapping pictures and telling stories. He saw his health decline just as he began taking steps to return to church after more than 50 years away.
Almost a year to the date of going to the temple, my Uncle Terry passed away. He labored in the vineyard for a small fraction of his 66 years. Yet when I spoke with him two weeks before he died all he wanted to do was tell stories. He wanted to talk about that 11th-hour labor, of teaching high priests and doing temple work for his biological father. He talked about the example of his sisters and their husbands all these years. It was their toiling in the heat of the day that brought him back.
I think we often give up on people, or place them in a certain category when it comes to their hopes for faithful living. But the Lord never does. He goes out often, searching for those standing idle in the marketplace. He doesn’t spite them for the hour at which their labor commences. To him, the important part isn’t when they arrive, but that they are willing to follow him into the vineyard and do his work.
My Uncle Terry knew this. In watching his life wind down, I was reminded that the reason we labor at all is to help others receive life’s full wage.
I will miss my uncle dearly, but I am grateful for the example of his life’s journey, where it began, and most especially where it ended.
Elder Holland: It is never too late
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Twelve shares about the parable of the day labors and invites all to come back in the April 2012 general conference.