1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went.
“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.
“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
8 “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.’
9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These 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.’
13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”Matthew 20:1-16
Asking a group of kids what the going rate is for a lost tooth is risky. When I was a kid, the going rate was a quarter. Before that it was nickels and before that pennies. Today, I’m sure with inflation the going rate for a lost tooth is measured in dollars, and by the time my kids are having kids they will probably just leave a credit card under the pillow. It’s risky to ask about the price of a lost tooth because someone may have been given more than someone else, which leads to accusations of unequal treatment and very likely tears.
As you grow up, worries about equal compensation for a lost tooth turn into other worries about equal treatment. At work you might wonder if you are getting equal pay or opportunities as the other employees. In your marriage, you may wonder if you are equally important to your spouse as their job, the kids, their hobbies or whatever they are looking at on their phone. If you are running for some political office, you might not feel like you are getting an equal amount of time for your voice to be heard. We are concerned about equality at all times in our lives, especially when we do not feel like we are being treated equally. To put it more bluntly, we get upset when others seem to be treated better than we are.
Jesus addressed that universal concern we have when we feel we are not being treated as well as we deserve in Matthew 20. Jesus addressed the issue of equal treatment among believers by telling the disciples about a landowner who hired workers to work a day in his vineyard. The landowner went out early in the morning, found some workers, offered them a day’s wage, or denarius at Jesus’ time, and they agreed to those terms. As the day went on, the landowner went out every few hours and hired more workers, even hiring some at five in the afternoon. Then, the owner called all the workers together to pay them beginning with the last hired and ending with the first. To the surprise of those first hired, the landowner paid everyone a full day’s wage.
When those who worked a full day received the same payment as those who had worked a small fraction of the time, their inequality radar started beeping in their minds and they said, 12 “These who were hired last worked only one hour…and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.” The earliest workers were upset at the landowner, and at first glance, we want to agree with them. They made good points about working a longer day in the heat and doing most of the work. When they saw how much the 5:00 pm hires got paid per hour, they felt like the landowner had taken advantage of them and did not appreciate their work. However, at the start of the day, the landowner told them exactly how much he was going to pay them for their full day’s work, and they agreed without any hesitation or negotiations for higher pay. It was only when they saw the generosity of the landowner that they became upset. And, this was Jesus’ point. He wanted the disciples along with you and I, and all believers to understand how his generosity works toward all his people.
Jesus’ generosity is not about what we deserve, but about what he wants to give us. You have had one of these moments like in Jesus’ parable. It happened when you focused on all you do for God and looked at others thinking, “How could that person even call themselves a Christian, they barely do anything that resembles what a good Christian should look like!” You have had one of those moments when you looked at someone and thought, “Wow, if God is giving out mansions in heaven, they will be lucky to get a doghouse.” And, I bet you did not know it but someone out there has thought the same thing about you. When your inequality radar goes off regarding God’s generosity toward how much work you and others do for God, these words from Jesus’ parable quickly identify whether or not we have a right to feel we are being treated unequally. Jesus said, 13 “But he [the landowner] answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’” When you question whether or not someone deserves God’s blessings of forgiveness, love, hope, peace, eternal life, etc. you are not really asking a question of equality, but a question of generosity. The phrase Jesus used in the Greek was having a ‘wicked eye’ toward generosity. When you question God’s generous blessings toward someone, it comes from your wicked, evil sinful nature. You really do not want God to reward you or anyone for what they have done because when your work is added up, it is sinful and as Paul wrote in Romans 6, 23 “For the wages of sin is death.” Working on our own, all our paycheck reads is sin and death. But, God does not pay us as we deserve as Paul went on to write, 6 … “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
God’s generosity is not based on what we deserve; it is a gift. God has not promised to give you or anyone heaven based on what they have done. Instead, God promises to give everyone eternal life based on what Jesus has done as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 8, 9 “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” Jesus the perfect Son of God had everything. He lacked nothing and was perfectly content. Yet, he gave that up to become a sacrifice for us. Jesus did not lose his riches by becoming a human being, if so, he would not have kept his human body after his resurrection. Jesus did not give up his riches by becoming human, but he gave them up by what he did when he became the Son of God and Son of Man. Jesus did the work we could not do, not just for an hour or for a day, but for his whole life he served God without complaining that he had to keep God’s commands and show life while we continued sinning. He knew the hard path to the cross and grave, and he was glad to walk it for you. Jesus gave up everything, to give you and all people everything; to give forgiveness, to replace your record of sin with a perfect record deserving of an eternal home in heaven, and deliverance from death, the devil and hell. You and all who believe receive an equal share in the unending riches of heaven because of God’s generosity.
All of you are equally the richest person in the world. And, with the riches of God’s grace, you have a new outlook on life. You no longer look at the work of God’s kingdom as a burden or something for which you deserve compensation. Instead, you have the same mindset as Paul wrote in Philippians 1, “21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” Paul recognized that with Jesus his death would bring the joys of heaven, but he also knew that remaining alive meant getting to share God’s generosity of Jesus’ forgiveness and love with others. This attitude of thankfulness towards God and the desire to share his generosity does not come naturally, but from God’s gift of faith. And our confidence that God is ready to call others to faith throughout the day and every hour comes from Isaiah 55, 7 “Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. 8 ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.” The riches of God are yours and his riches will not run out. You have the great calling to share Jesus’ generous gift of forgiveness and eternal life. You know the life changing message that God’s ways are not your ways. You were not treated how you deserve but treated with the love of God. And, as you share his message with others, you get to watch them come to see that his ways are not our ways, they are much, much more generous.
As kids we easily got caught up with how much money we got for a lost tooth. And, as we grow up, we continue to struggle with equality. Leave behind those immature thoughts and live in thanks for God’s generosity. After all, losing all your baby teeth just means a kid is better equipped to eat some good Texas BBQ. And, much more than that, you have been given all you need through Jesus. You are equipped to share with others the generosity of God because it is the same forgiveness and eternal life that he has given you. Through Jesus, there is total equality through God’s generosity! Amen.