12th February 2012
“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 one 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?’”
Matthew 20:13-15 (NIV UK)
By the time we finish kindergarten, we have a pretty good notion that life is not fair. Even so, we want life to be fair and we even expect it to be fair. When it isn’t some of us can get pretty upset.
Jesus gave us a parable about fairness in Matthew 20:1-16. He said, “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. About nine in the morning he went out and saw others … 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 noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. …He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his supervisor, ‘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 five in the afternoon 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 one 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.”
A denarius was pretty good money for a day’s work, about the same as the pay of a Roman soldier. Being a Roman soldier was not the most prestigious job, but it was higher up the social ladder than the common vineyard worker. So the workers eagerly accepted the job. But they were not happy that others got the same pay for far less work.
Jesus wasn’t giving us a civics lesson. He was telling us about how grace works in the kingdom of God. It doesn’t matter how good we’ve been compared with how good someone else has been. It doesn’t matter how sinful we’ve been compared with how sinful someone else has been. Salvation simply isn’t tied to anything but the riches of God’s love and grace.
Paul writes, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Regardless of the relative pain or ease of our life’s journey, salvation comes only by grace and not by what we do. Like any gift, the only thing we can do with grace is have a little faith. In other words, trust the Giver and accept and embrace the gift.
With God, we don’t get what we deserve. We get everything we don’t deserve—his unfailing love and a new life in Jesus Christ.
Holy Father, thank you for not giving us our just deserts. Help us always to remember that we have been given, undeservedly, your grace. Now we can step forward with you, embracing your gift which helps empower us in your service. In Jesus’ name we pray.
Study by Joseph Tkach