I love the parables of Jesus…simple stories that give such vivid images of truth. In Matthew 20, Jesus tells the seemingly simple parable of a landowner who goes searching for workers to help him with his vineyard. When he finds workers, they mutually agree to be paid a certain amount, and off they go to start working.
Fast-forward to a few hours later, the landowner goes back into the marketplace at 9am, Noon, 3pm, and 5pm looking for more workers. Each time he goes back, he sees workers standing around, waiting to be hired, so he invites them to come and work in his vineyard.
At the end of the day, when the workers are called back in to be paid, the landowner tells his foreman to begin by paying the ones who were hired later in the day first (some of them only having worked for 1 hour), then to finish the day off by paying the ones who started working early in the morning, so they are the last to be paid.
So, as the workers were all waiting to be paid, with the 5pm workers being paid first, you can imagine the surprise when it’s finally time for the early workers to be paid…and they are given the exact same amount as the workers who started at 5pm.
I don’t know about you, but I think I would’ve personally been so frustrated if I had woken up early, worked hard in the heat of the day, then stood around waiting to be paid…only to watch groups of people who worked only 1 hour or 3 hours, get paid the exact same amount that I did for a full day of hard work.
As you can imagine, the workers started to grumble and complain, and I imagine them saying things like…”What? Why am I getting the same amount as them? I worked for 12 hours and they only worked for 1, yet we are paid the same??” Or “I’ve been here ALL day, now you made me wait to get paid, and now you are paying me that same amount as the men who worked only ONE hour…how does that make sense?!”
The landowners response is so good…he simply replies to their complaints by saying, “I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for this amount?” Take your pay and go. I wanted to give the one who was hired last the same pay 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 being generous?”
and BOOM, I imagine at that point, the tired workers, just frustratedly walking away and shaking their heads. And while I completely understand their frustration, I think there’s an important lesson to be learned here on the negative impact of:
- Comparing your work to the work of others
- Being upset when others receive a blessing you feel you deserve, or being upset when others receive a blessing you don’t think they deserve
- Counting on our works, rather than grace to save us
I see two different attitudes that the early workers could’ve chosen to walk away with: on one hand, they could have been grateful for the pay they received & the opportunity they had to work all day and they could’ve chosen to celebrate with the other workers who were blessed enough to receive a full day’s pay in just a few hours or less and the ability that gave them to be able to support their families…
OR, as they actually responded, they could have felt ungrateful and entitled to receive more pay for the work they did since they worked longer and harder in the heat of the day.
Instead of choosing gratitude and celebrating the blessing given to the other workers, they were greedy and not God-honoring with their response. They were filled with selfish ambition, jealousy, anger, and probably even envy towards the other workers…and just think, what good did that do for them?
So I ask these questions of myself today as I go to work in my own “vineyard” (actually an elementary school :)), am I working for the Lord or am I working for my own personal gain? When I see others succeed and my work goes unnoticed, how do I respond? Do I celebrate the wins of others, or do I harbor envy in my heart?
As for me, I am walking away from reading this story with a humbled heart. The thing is, the point of this story isn’t even actually about the money, but rather, the Kingdom of God. It’s a parallel to what we are called to do here on Earth, while we are waiting on Heaven.
God is the landowner, and we are the workers. He calls us all, some earlier on, some later on, and some right at the end of our lives. BUT, our “compensation” for our “work” will be the same, because we are not saved by how much work we do (thank goodness!). Instead, we will all receive eternal life, IF we accept Jesus into our hearts and believe that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. So it’s not at all about how many hours or how hard we work, but instead, it’s about the grace we are given, just as the workers in this story were given grace and a blessing, despite only working for a few hours.
Let’s thank God for that same grace that He has given us! And let’s be THANKFUL that it’s not about how many “hours” we work, or what we do, it’s about what He DID and the gift he has bestowed up on so that we can spend eternity with Him, no matter when we start or how hard we work in His vineyards.