“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.”
(Matthew 20:1-16 ESV)
Today Jesus tells another parable about the kingdom of heaven. This one is in the context of the rich young ruler who refused to place Jesus first in his life and the subsequent question by Peter about what he and the other eleven disciples, who gave up all they had to follow Jesus, would get out of doing so. Yesterday Jesus told the disciples they would receive, among other things, eternal life. In today’s parable Jesus explains the process by which God allocates eternal life.
The parable is pretty self-explanatory but notice that when it came time to pay the laborers the owner of the vineyard commanded that the last be paid first and the first be paid last. This was probably unusual but Jesus tells the story this way to make a point.
The laborers who worked all day watched as those who worked much less received a denarius. They thought, therefore, that they would receive more. But they received only what they agreed upon. Even so, they were disappointed and begrudged the owner’s generosity towards the other workers.
Notice that no one was treated unfairly in this parable, even though some thought they had been. Everyone received no less than what they expected although some received more.
Life was tough back then and if a man went home at the end of the day with no money it likely meant he, his wife, and his kids didn’t eat the next day. So having a full day’s wage – regardless of whether they worked a full day – was a blessing to these men and was distributed simply out of the goodness of the landowner’s heart.
Similarly, God loves to shower His grace on those among His followers who are the most unworthy in this world’s eyes, like the owner did with the late workers, who were probably the least skilled. This may not be how most of us would operate. But God doesn’t do things the way we would [Isaiah 55:8-9].
Human beings operate on a system of earned merit. God operates on a system of undeserved grace.
Regarding eternal life, which is the context of this parable, all human beings, because of our sin, deserve to be separated from God forever in hell. Those who have accepted God’s call to join His family will receive what God promised – eternity in heaven – and, therefore, have infinitely more than we could ever deserve.
Like in the parable, some may have served God more while others served Him less. Some will be saved earlier in life, some later. Some may even be saved just before they die like the thief on the cross [Luke 23:39-43]. Some may have come from typical backgrounds while others lived dubious lives. None of that should matter to us.
No one who has been saved from the penalty of their sins has any reason to complain about or question the validity of the salvation anyone else receives. God’s grace is available and equitable towards all. He will always give whatever is right.
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