Matthew 20:1-16 (NIV) “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
“About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.
“He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. about the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
“‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.
“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’
“The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘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.’
“But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
As the closing words of this parable show, the whole parable is a commentary on Jesus’ statement to His followers at the end of chapter 19, where the exact same words are written. (This is an example of a chapter break being inserted into the middle of a single thought.)
This long parable’s main point is very simple: All the workers got promised the same reward for their labors, and all were paid precisely what they were promised. Those who worked all day got the promised denarius, and those who only worked the last hour also got the promised denarius.
On its surface, this may strike us as unfair, just as it did the first-hired crew. But, as the vineyard owner stated, they all got what was promised. And, since they had all done what was required to get their denarius (none of them did more than was asked of them), that was what they got.
Jesus’ point was that those who came to the kingdom early in life would get all that was promised to them: manifold blessings and eternal life. But those who came later, even in their last day of life, like the thief on the cross, would also get manifold blessings and eternal life. And, in God’s sight, that is exactly fair. God promises all the same, and each gets what He promises.
To those who complain that length of service should entitle them to more, it must be pointed out that Jesus required them to give up all, to take up their cross, and to follow Jesus. In return, they were promised great blessing and eternal life. And at the last judgment, they will receive great blessing and eternal life. What did they do in life that would merit more than that? How much more than all did they give? What more than self-sacrificing death to the world did they give? And, of course, the only answer that can reasonable be given in view of those thoughts is: “We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.” (Luke 17:10) Also, what more could God possibly give to those who were faithful in following than massive blessing and eternal life? How can that be increased or improved upon in any way?
All who devote their lives to following Jesus will receive blessing uncountable, both here and in heaven, and eternal life in God’s presence as well. And that is the same whether their service was long or short.
Father, there is something in us, as there was in those first disciples, that wants to jockey for position and prestige, whether we see that as additional jewels in our crowns, or a place just a little closer to Your throne, or a little bigger mansion, or even that our “well done, good and faithful servant” might be spoken loud enough for others to hear. But what You have promised for our service, incredible blessings and eternal life in Your presence, can’t be improved upon by any means. It will all be perfect. Amen.