The Wages of the Craft and the Symbolism of the Parable

The following monitorial instructions on the Wages of the Craft and the Symbolism of the Parable appear on pp. 38-42 of “The Book of the Chapter” by Albert G. Mackey.

The Wages of the Craft.

The traditions of Masonry respecting the wages of the workmen at the temple, instruct us that there were two divisions of the Fellow Crafts. The first, or higher class, were employed in the quarries, in hewing, squaring and numbering the stones, and thus preparing them for the builders’ use; and that each one might be enabled to designate his own work, and to determine the amount of compensation which was due him, he was in possession of a mark, which he placed upon all the materials prepared by him. Hence this class of Fellow Crafts were called Mark Masters, and received their pay from the Senior Grand Warden, whom some suppose to have been Adoniram, the brother-in-law of Hiram Abif, and the first of the Provosts and Judges. They received their pay in money, at the rate of a half shekel of silver, equal to about twenty-five cents. They were paid weekly, at the sixth hour of the sixth day of the week—that is to say, on Friday, at noon.

The second, and probably larger class of the Fellow Crafts were younger and less experienced men, whose skill and knowledge were not such as to entitle them to advancement to the grade of Mark Master. These workmen were not, therefore, in possession of a mark, and proved their right to reward by another token. They received their wages in the middle chamber, and were paid in corn, wine, and oil, agreeably to the stipulation of King Solomon with Hiram, King of Tyre.

The promotion of a certain number of the Fellow Crafts to a higher degree, which was to be considered as an honorarium, or reward bestowed upon them for their superior skill and knowledge in their profession, has occasioned this degree to receive the technical title of “the honorary degree of a Mark Master,” a term which Webb has in one place carelessly corrupted in to “honorable.”

The Parable.

The following passage from the Book of the Law is read:

“For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the market place, and said unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right, I will give you. And they went their way. And again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour, he went out and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. And when they came, that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more, and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they received it, they murmured against the good man of the house, saying, 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. But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong; didst thou not agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way; I will give unto this last even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with my own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.” — Matthew 20:1-16.

The Symbolism of the Parable.

There is no passage of Scripture recited in any portion of our ritual which is more appropriate to the ceremonies into which it is introduced, than is this sublime parable of our Lord to the whole extent and design of the Mark Master’s Degree. We learn from it that the Grand Architect of the Universe will make no distinction of persons in the distribution of His beneficence, but will give alike to each who sincerely seeks to obey the great law of His creation. Masonry regards no man on account of his worldly wealth or honors. It is the internal, and not the external qualifications that recommend a man to be a mason. No matter what may be the distinctions of place or office, the humblest shall receive as full a reward as the highest, if he has labored faithfully and effectually in the task set before him. And this arises from the very nature of the institution.

The lodge is the mason’s vineyard; his labor is study, and his wages are truth. The youngest brother may, therefore, labor more earnestly than the oldest, and thus receive more light in Masonry as the reward of his earnest work. There was a young craftsman who had been idle all the week, doing no work whatsoever—the symbol of the profane, who has not yet been initiated into Masonry; yet, on the last day, at the eleventh hour, he found in the quarries and brought into the temple that stone which became the head of the corner. Thus did he more service to the house of the Lord than all those who had labored from the rising even to the setting of the sun, and yet who could offer no more at the end of each day’s work than the ordinary result of an ordinary man’s labor.

The vineyard of Masonry is open to all. But he who works most diligently, though he began the latest, shall not be below him who, commencing earlier, has not put his whole heart into the task.

The design of all Masonry is the search after TRUTH, and every one who seeks to discover it, shall receive his reward in the attainment. However we may have endured the heat and burden of the day, if we have not labored wisely, with the true end in view—if our zeal has not been tempered with judgment—though first at the vineyard, we shall be last at the reward; for truth is to be found only by him who looks for it earnestly, and whose search is directed by wisdom, and supported by faithful courage and unfaltering zeal. It is not the time that you have been a mason, but the way in which that time has been employed, that will secure the prize of intellectual light. He who, like the youthful craftsman in the quarries, has made one discovery in masonic science, is of more benefit as a member to the fraternity than he who, after long years, has learned nothing more than his ritual, just as the keystone was of infinitely more value than many ordinary blocks of stone.

So, then, let us all labor in the vineyard and the quarry—in the lodge and in the study—so that, being called as initiates to seek masonic truth, we also may be chosen to find it.

The full text of Mackey’s monitorial instructions on the Mark Master degree may be found at:

Mark Master from Mackey’s “The Book of the Chapter”