Jesus tells us that entrance into the kingdom of heaven is not earned, but given freely only because of God’s great generosity, which goes far beyond our human ideas of what is fair. Jesus goes further and clarifies the membership into the kingdom of heaven, that it is by God’s grace alone. In this parable, God is the landowner, believers are the laborers, and the vineyard is the kingdom of heaven. This parable speaks especially to those who feel superior because of heritage or favored position, to those who feel superior because they have spent so much time with Christ. It also speaks to new believers to reassure them of God’s grace.
Matthew 20:1-16 (TNIV)
1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went.“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
7 “ ‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his supervisor, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’
9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
13 “But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
The landowner goes out early and hires laborers to work in the field (God calls many who accept the invitation to enter the kingdom in service). In verse 3, later in the morning, around 9 am, the landowner goes into the marketplace and finds people standing about doing nothing and offers them work in the vineyard. He tells them that they will receive a fair wage. (God comes into the world and the kingdom is offered to others, these others may be older, or further along in life, people that were necessarily seeking God).
I would note here that in the market place, these people were standing around idle, Jesus does not tell us that they were seeking work. I think this is an important distinction. Until we accept Jesus and God’s grace, we are really doing nothing with no direction. Apart from God’s gracious call, life has no ultimate purpose. Before we become servants of Christ, our lives account for little more than standing around in the marketplace. The world passes by, and we’re going nowhere. But God finds us idle and offers us work. His love makes contact and gives purpose and direction. I remember my life in this condition, what a stark contrast to the richness and difference in my life when I accepted God’s call. I now have purpose, direction, and a destination.
This is the part that is so important: The landowner goes out and finds more people around 12 noon, 3 pm, and even 5 pm when all work would stop around 6 pm. These people are standing about idle, doing nothing. They are not seeking work. We may think of these people as being lazy, doing nothing all day. But the landowner seeks to employ them and tells them that he will give them a fair wage. They probably expect very little as they realize that they will be working very few hours. I would note also that in that day, if people did not work, they would go hungry (hmmm…in many cases it is still like that today!). It was gracious of the landowner to give them work. So, here, God calls people at all different stages in life. Some are called early on and do much work in the kingdom, enduring much sacrifice and possibly hardship, while others are called later and graciously given entrance into the kingdom. All they have to do is accept the invitation to enter the kingdom. The landowner reminds them that they got what they agreed to.
Now it’s time to pay the laborers. The Landowner decides to pay the last workers he hired first. They are paid a full days wage, as well as all the others. The original hirees that negotiated the full days wage with the landowner are upset that they worked longer and got the same thing that those who worked less got.
I believe that as long as we have the attitude that we deserve something more from God because we have sacrificed more, that we miss out on the treasures in heaven. However, if we realize that God’s grace covers all equally that answer the call…….we gain treasures in heaven. Jesus tells us “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” this phrase has always intrigued me. What could He be meaning? It’s clear now, at least in my mind. We often count our treasures in the things we accomplish, the things we own and accumulate. However, God tells us that these things mean nothing that His grace is sufficient. So, those that believe that they should be first because of their status, wealth or sacrifice….are actually last because of their lack of “simple” faith.
At “Grace and Grits” we feed the hungry. Many people would consider these people the least in society because of their poverty, or their homelessness. But something I have seen after talking to many of these people is that many of them share the same deep faith and love that I do for Jesus. And I believe that God loves them absolutely as much as He loves me. I talked to my friend Donna one day and I took a small silver cross on a chain and asked her husband if he minded if I gave her a gift as she had really blessed by week by singing with me. When I gave her this small cross she almost cried. Later she came up and told me how much she loved the Lord and how this cross served to remind her of Him. We sang amazing Grace together again and smiled, laughed and had a great time.
This is my friend Donna
Later I had a man come sit at the table next to us named Bill. He asked us to sing The Old Rugged Cross. As we sang that song I looked up and he sat there with his eyes closed singing along in worshipful bliss. Later we talked and shared laughs and stories. He and his friend Ray both live on the street. But I was impressed with his kindness and warm heart that shone through the layers of dirt and unkept hair. What I am really getting at is that these people, whom society often considers “the least”…..well, many of them have a deep love for the Lord despite their circumstances. For many others, I hope that we can somehow be used by God to shine a light so that they will know how very passionately God loves them. I believe that God smiles on their hearts as much as any of ours…..and rightfully so. When I start thinking that I have worked harder and therefore deserve God’s love more…….that’s when I will be last. God’s standards are different than ours. Like a father that loves his children equally, though one has chosen a lesser path than the other, God loves us equally and rejoices when we come home. God is generous with His love………for many of us, I certainly am glad! Because I made bad choices or even because bad choices have been made for me in my life…….I’m glad that it doesn’t keep us from the Father’s love. We must always remember that salvation is not earned, but given freely only because of God’s great generosity, which goes far beyond our human ideas of what is fair.
Today’s CLUE: Jesus tells us that entrance into the kingdom of heaven is not earned, but given freely only because of God’s great generosity, which goes far beyond our human ideas of what is fair.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?