In April of 2012, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke of the account found in Matthew 20:1-15, saying:
I wish to speak of the Savior’s parable in which a householder “went out early in the morning to hire labourers.” After employing the first group at 6:00 in the morning, he returned at 9:00 a.m., at 12:00 noon, and at 3:00 in the afternoon, hiring more workers as the urgency of the harvest increased. The scripture says he came back a final time, “about the eleventh hour” (approximately 5:00 p.m.), and hired a concluding number. Then just an hour later, all the workers gathered to receive their day’s wage. Surprisingly, all received the same wage in spite of the different hours of labor.
Though some of the workers had labored for twelve hours and others for only one, each and all of them received the same day’s wage. It’s important to recognize that those who had worked the entire day weren’t shortchanged at the end: they received full payment for a day of work. It’s much more thrilling, though, to recognize that those who had worked for only an hour didn’t end up being shortchanged just because they weren’t lucky enough to have been hired earlier in the day: they received payment for the full day of work that they had been ready and willing to perform. In the Savior’s parable, it didn’t matter when the laborers showed up to work—it mattered that they showed up at all. Extending the lesson of the parable to us, Elder Holland added that the Lord’s “concern is for the faith at which you finally arrive, not the hour of the day in which you got there.” That is, rather than penalize us for not resolving a month ago to stop yelling at other drivers during rush hour, the Lord will bless and support our efforts for deciding today that everyone—even people who won’t drive as fast as we’d like—deserve our courtesy and respect.
Of course, at the start of a new year, our aspirations are often a little grander than driving politely. If the new-year proliferation of advertisements for weight-loss programs, exercise regimens, and dating sites is any indication, a new year brings with it the winds of reinvention, of the hope that we can and will succeed in changing ourselves and our lives for the better. On the other hand, those winds are accompanied by an eddying undercurrent of satirical non-resolutions and cynical distrust of any aspiration that seems a little too dreamy—all as if to demonstrate a robust skepticism that we could ever really have what it takes to rise above our mundane and unremarkable routines. It’s clear, though, that the Lord doesn’t expect us to amount to nothing much: He commanded, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). That teaching was echoed by the late Spencer W. Kimball, prophet and President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, when he said, “I remind you…that regardless of your present age, you are building your life; it will be cheap and shoddy or it will be valuable and beautiful; it will be full of constructive activities or it can be destructive; it can be full of joy and happiness or it can be full of misery. It all depends upon you…. And you…must not be just average.” From the mouth of the Savior Himself and from the mouth of His latter-day prophet, we learn that there is much expected of us—much more than the world would lead us to believe.
As the Apostle Paul taught, some gift, talent, or “manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal” (I Corinthians 12:7). Our Creator gave each of us some spark of His divinity, some noble trait that, though a gift from Him, is uniquely ours to develop and use to ennoble and inspire those around us. Whether our gifts be apparently great, like those that enabled Esther to make her daring defense of the Israelites before her husband, the King of Persia, or seemingly small, like those that helped Ruth to provide committed care for her mother-in-law, we can use our unique traits and talents to accomplish great things. (Though these two women served in vastly different capacities, they are both remembered in Old Testament books that bear their names.) Thus, with the beginning of a new year, we shouldn’t shy away from becoming our best selves, for there is something noble in each of us, and even those less-obviously gifted, “which seem to be more feeble, are necessary” (I Corinthians 14:22). Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ recently declared, “You don’t need to wait for permission to become the person you were designed to be.” And, surely, we don’t. Indeed, only we can decide to act on our desires to improve—to defy discouragement and ignore fear and take a decisive first step.
While all of the laborers in the parable showed up to be hired, many of them probably found that the rest of their day did not go as planned. Some of those who had hoped to be hired in the morning didn’t find employment until the end of the afternoon, and some of those who were hired in the morning had to endure the heat of the sun at noon and the rigors of working in a vineyard for many hours. They all took the first step in showing up that day, but they couldn’t, just by taking that first step, guarantee that their second and third steps would land them where they hoped. Similarly, while we can decide to take the first step towards a goal, we cannot guarantee that our second or third—or even tenth—steps will be as flawless as our first. As we progress, we may not get the recognition we think we deserve, or we may not achieve the success we think we have earned. That doesn’t mean that our first step was somehow flawed or that we’ve set the wrong goal. It only means that change is hard and that we have to keep to trying. President Uchtdorf explained, “Another thing we need to remember when it comes to setting goals is this: We almost certainly will fail—at least in the short term. But rather than be discouraged, we can be empowered because this understanding removes the pressure of being perfect right now.” More often than not, sadly, I interpret an upset or failure as a signal that I’ve taken the wrong course. I let the bumps in the road persuade me that I’ve chosen the wrong road, and I forget what President Uchtdorf taught on another occasion, saying that “our destiny is not determined by the number of times we stumble but by the number of times we rise up, dust ourselves off, and move forward.” Surely, if we let the bumps and potholes along the way spook us off the path to success, we’ll never reach our destination. If we take each bump at a time, however, and circle each hole as it comes, we’ll progress consistently and end up where we hoped to be—maybe not all at once and surely not without wrenching work and determination, but, without doubt, we’ll eventually arrive. Not all of the laborers in the parable were hired when they had hoped or ended up working under ideal conditions, but they were all hired—and they all received the same generous reward.
“My beloved brothers and sisters, what happened in this story at 9:00 or noon or 3:00 is swept up in the grandeur of the universally generous payment at the end of the day,” Jeffrey R. Holland said. “The formula of faith is to hold on, work on, see it through, and let the distress of earlier hours—real or imagined—fall away in the abundance of the final reward. Don’t dwell on old issues or grievances—not toward yourself nor your neighbor….” He adds:
We consume such precious emotional and spiritual capital clinging tenaciously to the memory of a discordant note we struck in a childhood piano recital, or something a spouse said or did 20 years ago that we are determined to hold over his or her head for another 20, or an incident in Church history that proved no more or less than that mortals will always struggle to measure up to the immortal hopes placed before them….
I do not know who in this vast audience today may need to hear the message of forgiveness inherent in this parable, but however late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you think you don’t have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love.
Sometimes, we resolve to make changes that will help us to look better or to earn more money more quickly. Sometimes, though, we feel we need to make deeper changes, ones that will bring us closer to God. Whatever we may feel that we need to improve, we can have the confidence that He will help us, for He did not create us to flounder and fail—but to flourish. Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13). We too can rest on that hope, for I know that, whatever hurdles we may face on our way to fulfilling our noble potential, Jesus Christ will help us and strengthen us every step of the way. Opposition will mark the way and seem to mar our efforts, but, as we press on with faith, it will be powerless to impede us permanently. “So don’t,” as Elder Holland put it, “hyperventilate about something that happened at 9:00 in the morning when the grace of God is trying to reward you at 6:00 in the evening—whatever your labor arrangements have been through the day.” It doesn’t matter in the end if we’ve never tried before or if we’ve tried before and failed. What does matter is that we refuse to accept failure and that we then continue on to success because, ultimately:
[The Lord’s] concern is for the faith at which you finally arrive, not the hour of the day in which you got there.