Even Better Than “Fair”


Matthew 20:8-10 “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.”

Equal pay, but definitely not equal work–some had worked for twelve hours in the vineyard, others barely one hour. Yet each received the same.

The same heaven is waiting for each of us at the end our life’s day. We will all enjoy the same eternal bliss in the presence of the same God who shares with us the same eternal love. That reward is not based upon our service but God’s promise. And for that we can be deeply, deeply thankful. During high school and college I spent eight summers working on a dairy farm.  I didn’t get paid much my first summer, but I was a complete novice. If I had been paid what I deserved I would have been deeply in debt at summer’s end.

Honestly, hasn’t our Christian service been like that? Bad church politics and selfish decision making mar our service on the one side, and unwillingness to participate, unwillingness to contribute, stand in the way on the other. Who knows how much of the vineyard we would have uprooted and destroyed if God didn’t transform our humble efforts with his grace! When the day ends, we have every reason to pray, “Lord Jesus, don’t pay me what I deserve. Just give me what you promised. Let grace guide your motives when you reward your workers.”

But pride doesn’t see it that way. “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’” (Matthew 20:11-12). They speak no lie. Their work was hot and hard. Ours often is, too. Churchill offered the people of England nothing but blood, sweat, and tears as they engaged World War II in 1940. Work in the vineyard is one metaphor for our Christian service. Warfare is another: “Onward Christian Soldiers,” right? It isn’t always tea and crumpets. That doesn’t mean we should punch out and go home. It doesn’t mean that we should desert the ranks. It does mean we can expect some sweat and tears.

And the Master did treat them all the same. Working longer didn’t make him treat them better. Instead, he was consistently gracious and faithful. What they denounced as a miscarriage of justice was actually a miracle of his mercy. “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?” (Matthew 20:13-15).

The Lord keeps his promise in spite of our subpar work and unappreciative attitude. He didn’t pay these workers more. He didn’t dock their pay either. He paid them just the same. Because all our failings find forgiveness at the foot of Jesus’ cross, because God loves us not for our service but for our Savior’s service as the sacrifice for our sin, we can expect him to keep his promise when our last payday comes. Like the rest, we will receive infinitely more than we deserve. After all, what more is there than the denarius we have been promised? Where do you go up from heaven? How do you get more than eternity?

Our Master truly is generous. Why not equally share the wealth that all humanity can never exhaust or consume in the unending world to come?

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