For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. When he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard.
he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the
market place; and to those he said, 'You also go into the vineyard, and
whatever is right I will give you.' And so they went. Again he went out
about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did the same thing.
And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, 'Why have you been standing here idle all day long?' They said to him, 'Because no one hired us.' He said to them, 'You go into the vineyard too.'
When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last group to the first.' When those hired about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius. When those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. "When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, saying, 'These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.'
But he answered and said to one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? 'Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?'
So the last shall be first, and the first last. Matthew 20:1-16
parable illustrates a fundamental problem with grace for the works
oriented Christian. It just does not seem fair. But
is it simply a disagreement over what the wage should be based on the
length of service or the amount of work done? If we are to
understand why it is fair, we must go beyond a simple surface reading
of the parable. All of Jesus’ parables focus on one
thing…relationships. Jesus himself pointed out the value of
relationships in the Gospel of Mark:
one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and
perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the
first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the
commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou
shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul,
and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first
the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as
thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for
there is one God; and there is none other but he: And to love him with
all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul,
and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is
more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.
when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art
not far from the
essence of this encounter between Jesus and the scribe is that
relationships must be based on love.
certain card games you play with a trump suit. Adventists are
probably familiar with the game “Rook” which has trump suits declared
by the highest bidder at the start of each hand. The nature
of the trump suit is that no matter how high the card played from any
other suit, the lowliest of cards from the trump suit will always win
the play. Love is like a trump suit declared by
God. No matter how great the sacrifice, no matter how great
the offering, love trumps it all. Thirty, forty, fifty years
of right living to obtain a reward from God can be trumped by the
lowliest act of unselfish love.
scriptures illustrate this over and over again. We can find
this even in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew chapter 1.
Judah was the contractual heir and carried the ring and staff of
authority, but his contractual relationship with the family and God was
trumped by Tamar’s act of self-sacrifice, and her offspring became the
ancestors of the Savior rather than the sons of Judah’s wife Shuah the
in the story of Rahab of Jericho, we find her act of self-sacrifice in
protecting the spies of
also overcame God’s contract with
Bathsheba was able to enter into the honored genealogy of
Christ. Matthew had great trouble with this. Even
he had difficulty accepting this. Being a Jew he understood about right
living and when it came to Solomon in Christ’s genealogy, he could not
even bring himself to mention Bathsheba’s name, calling her instead,
“the wife of Uriah.” Sometimes we focus so much on the sins
of others; we become blind to seeing them as God sees them.
Although David plunged himself into the darkness of adultery and murder
regarding Bathsheba, yet he repented of his sin and with Bathsheba
raised Solomon to humbly honor God in his life. For this,
both Bathsheba and David are part of the genealogy of Christ.
Also Solomon and David wrote much that was included in the Bible as
counsel and inspiration for us today.
we stand before God and say, “I have never missed a Sabbath at
church.” He will say, “I trump that with love.” We
can say, “I have memorized huge portions of the Bible.” He
will say, “I trump that with love. We can say “I have never
eaten anything unclean or bad for me” like Peter did in Acts
10. Peter took particular pride in avoiding things that might
contaminate his experience. But God said “I trump that with
love, so get down off of your roof and go to the unclean.” It was
unlawful for a Jew to even enter the house of a non-Jew for fear of
losing their spiritual experience, yet God told him to do just
that. Peter, realizing he had been trumped, obeyed.
And as a result the household of Cornelius received the grace of Christ.
who are careful to walk the right path, say the right things, avoid the
things they should avoid have a hard time with the trump card of God’s
love. It is hard to see in the midst of all they have
sacrificed to live clean lives how God can honor a murderer, and
adulterer, a prostitute, or even a non-Adventist above them.
Like the other son, they feel that the prodigal son has received more
than he should based on what he has done. And some even give
up on living a righteous life out of frustration. This is
right where God wants us all to be.
cannot save ourselves no matter how closely we adhere to the terms of
the “contract.” At any time another may come and enter into
in spite of the hardness of our hearts, it is God who starts the cycle
of love for each of us. The Bible tells us “while
we were enemies we were reconciled to God…” Romans 5:10
How we respond to this love makes all the
difference. We can respond by running away. We can
respond by trying to cut a deal with God. “Now that you have found me
God, I will clean up my life so I can be a true child of
yours.” Or we can simply say “God, in no way do I deserve the
love you have given me. Help me to love like that.”
we respond in the first manner, we will miss out on all God has to
offer. If we respond in the second manner, we will begin to
compare our understanding of righteousness to others and will become
jealous when those who do not adhere to the same “contract” still
receive the same wage. If we respond in the third manner, we
will trust the Owner of the vineyard to pay us according to His love
and not worry about what others might be doing.
to the parable of the laborers, the deeper meaning can now be
understood. Those who agreed to work at the beginning of the
day, agreed to work for a specified wage. They had a
contractual relationship with the owner. He may not have even
been able to get them to commit to coming if He had not agreed to pay
them the accepted day’s wage. For these workers, it was all
about the reward. They would work hard but had the reward not
been what they specified, they probably would not have worked at
all. This attitude was demonstrated when they had to be told
by the Landowner to take their wages. They apparently scorned
even what they had agreed to. In all likelihood, those of
this class will not work for this Landowner again, feeling they have
been cheated, when it was they themselves who would not work unless the
wage was such and such.
contrast to these, all those hired later came to work in the vineyard,
trusting the Landowner to pay them whatever was fair. They
knew they had not worked a full day and did not expect much but trusted
themselves to the Landowner’s character. This class of
workers will probably be happy to work for this Landowner again,
knowing that he gave them more than they deserved. Where the
first class limited themselves to being paid based on their contract,
the second class was limited only by the Landowner’s love and
first class of laborers would probably say that the contract is
necessary to protect them from exploitation. In other words,
the Landowner cannot be trusted outside of the agreement. Was
the Landowner opposed to entering into the contract? Maybe,
but obviously He did so anyway. God will always allow us our
free will. But when we try to strike a bargain with Him, we will always
end up with less than we might have had because we will be limited by
the terms of the agreement we ourselves forged.
we say “God if you will give me healthy child, I will serve you
forever;” If we say, “God, I will believe in you if you get
me out of this financial jam;” If we say, “God, I will avoid
everything that might contaminate me and my family, if you will save
us;” we are offering God contract terms, and He will take us up on
those terms, but we will receive so much less than we might have
received if we had simply trusted His character to take care of us and
resolve to simply trust Him. To see what He will provide
based on His character and not based on what I am able to commit
to. My commitment to righteousness tends to be like ropes of
sand anyway. Therefore, I only want to surrender to Him and
trust in His mercy and love. As the Publican said “God be
merciful to me a sinner.” Won’t you join me in surrendering
your heart to that love right now?