This devotional is about Matthew 20.
Jesus told some very odd stories and Matthew 20:1-16 contains one of them. It started out unsurprisingly enough: A farmer needed harvesters for his vineyard. He went where the unemployed workers hung out and hired a bunch of them. They agreed to work all day for 1 denarius. That was the standard amount paid for one day’s work in Jesus’ time.
At noon, he hired more guys; their wage was ambiguous: “whatever is right” (v. 4). That equals more than zero, which they would have received for standing around the rest of the day, so they agreed.
The same thing happened at 3 p.m. At 5 p.m., he hired even more guys.
A few hours later as darkness fell, each worker was paid. The farmer instructed his foreman to start with the last guys in, pay them first, and pay the first guys last. The foreman paid 1 denarius to the guys who started working at 5. In other words, they made a full day’s wage for one hour of work. Nice work if you can get it!
The guys hired at 3 got their denarius, and so did the guys who clocked in at noon. The guys who had worked all day eagerly looked forward to their paychecks. They reasoned: “This crazy landowner is paying a day’s wage to guys who worked for 1 hour; how much will he pay for those of us who worked 8 hours?” The answer:
Just as they had agreed in the morning. No bonus money for working all day. No tips, either.
Although the all-day workers agreed to that amount from the beginning, they were unhappy. They were unhappy even though it was a fair wage for a fair day’s work. They were unhappy even though they had agreed to that amount in advance. Despite the objective fairness of the situation, those who worked all day felt it was unfair to pay the last workers as much as the first workers made (v. 12).
When they complained that these were unfair labor practices, the farmer told them, “Hey, it’s my money! I can do with it whatever I want! And, what I want is to be crazy generous to those who only worked an hour.” That’s my paraphrase, but it is an accurate description of verses 13-15. Jesus concluded the story in verse 16 by saying, “So the last will be first and the first will be last” (v. 16).
This is a parable about justice and generosity. It is a parable about God and, specifically, how he treats people in his kingdom. The lesson taught in this parable is that God is generous in his kingdom; he does not operate in typical human ways. If you follow Jesus for 50 years or for 1 day, you receive the same blessing of eternal life, the same gift of God’s love, the same adoption into God’s holy family.
Do you ever feel a sense of inferiority as a Christian? If you were saved as an adult, do you think that people who were saved as children are more loved by God or more capable of serving him effectively?
Or do you suffer from superiority? Do you look down on other believers because they lack a Christian heritage or don’t have the fund of Bible knowledge that you do?
Let this parable correct your thinking about God and his ways. God is generous with his grace. He makes the same promises to everyone who calls on him. So enjoy and marvel at the grace of God and don’t look at any other Christian as more or less blessed than you are.