Matthew 20:1-16 (ESV)
1 “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. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4 and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ 5 So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. 6 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?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ 8 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.’ 9 And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 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.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.”
The conversation between Jesus and the disciples about the rich young man ended with Jesus saying, “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (19:30) The disciples were convinced the rich man would be first because he was wealthy, but Jesus taught that things won’t always turn out the way people think. To illustrate this, Jesus told the story of a landowner who hired day laborers for his vineyard. His grapes were ready, and he needed them harvested. The workers he hired early in the morning agreed to a denarius for their day’s labor. As time went on, there was still fruit to be harvested, and the landowner hired more men, even up to the last hour. At the end of the day, the workers lined up. The ones who began last were paid a denarius. The ones who began first assumed they would be paid more than a denarius because they had worked longer and under the heat of the midday sun. But they were paid a denarius as well, so they grumbled. Why should they be paid the same amount as those who only worked a fraction of the time? They felt this was totally unfair. The landowner explained he had done no wrong. The early group got exactly what they worked for. The owner had the right to be generous with whomever he pleased, and nothing unfair took place.
Jesus clearly showed the disciples that salvation is all of grace. Many who are not yet born again believe that if they live a good life God will have to accept them into his kingdom. But this is just not true. On judgment day, God is not going to weigh good deeds against bad deeds to decide one’s destiny. Salvation is a gracious act of God, and he owes no man eternal life. In fact, if God gave us what we deserved, no one would be saved! If we have been Christians for any length of time, it is easy to begin to think that we have somehow contributed to our own salvation, especially if we have been faithful to his word. Let’s drop that thinking from our minds immediately. Instead, let’s thank him for his grace and ask him that many others, even those we may think are unworthy, be blessed with the same favor he has freely shown us.