The reaction of those who first read or hear this parable, at least as an initial impression, is an odd feeling that makes this a peculiar parable. And yet, the teaching of the parable contains at least two important points that greatly affect the whole of Christian life.
The first point concerns the behavior of Christians as Christians, even as human beings, as they go through their ordinary daily life. Because of the weakness of human nature, as everyone knows from experience, they tend to resist the principles and lessons to be learned from the Gospel.
After a cursory exposition of both points, the first conclusion to be drawn is the perennial relevance of the teachings of the Gospel. In the episode we will discuss, there will appear again, described with uncanny precision and absolute realism, the problems of men in general and those affecting the modern Church in particular; the errors and deviations with respect to the revealed Word will be clearly expounded and the true solutions to those errors will be clearly pointed out. But let us go step by step; first, a summary of the content of the parable.
A householder went out early in the morning, at the first hour, to hire laborers in his vineyard. He found some workers and agreed with them to a penny a day for their labor; he went out later about the third, sixth, and ninth hours and found other laborers whom he also hired, promising them wages that would be just. He finally went out about the last hour of the day, the eleventh hour, and saw still others standing idle because, they said, no man had hired them. He also sent these to his vineyard with the promise of paying them what had been agreed. When the day was over, the lord of the vineyard ordered his steward to pay the laborers, beginning from the last even to the first. The steward did so. Those who came at the last hour received every man a penny; and so on, up to those who had arrived first, who also received every man a penny. This caused unhappiness among the latter, who murmured against the master of the house arguing that they, despite having worked from the very first hour and borne the burden of the day and the heat, earned the same as those hired last. The lord answered one of them that he had done him no wrong since he was paid what had been agreed. As for the other laborers, the lord said that if he decided to give them as much as he gave the first ones, he was just giving his own money at his own will. So shall the last be first, and the first last.
When Jesus Christ describes the characteristics of the Good Shepherd He says that the sheep hear his voice; and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he hath let out his own sheep, he goeth before them: and the sheep follow him, because they know his voice. But –Jesus Christ goes on—a stranger they follow not, but fly from him, because they know not the voice of strangers.
Traditionally, these words were never difficult to interpret, but they present the current Pastoral activity and the faithful of the modern Church with a difficult and very serious problem as regards their interpretation. This complex and sensitive topic needs a thorough step-by-step analysis as the sole means of reaching a satisfactory explanation.
First we must consider the very words of the text. Accordingly, the sheep follow the Shepherd because they know his voice; whereas they do not follow the voice of strangers because they know not the voice of strangers.
The conclusion is self-evident: when the voice of the Shepherd is known by the sheep (which obviously implies that the sheep have heard His voice before and are used to it), then they follow the Shepherd. On the contrary, when the voice of the Shepherd sounds sort of strange to the sheep, then they know it not (which means that this voice is different from and at variance with the voice known to them ) and, therefore, they follow it not.