Matthew 20:1-16

For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the owner of an estate who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay the normal daily wage and sent them out to work.

At nine o’clock in the morning he was passing through the marketplace and saw some people standing around doing nothing. So he hired them, telling them he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day.

At noon and again around three o’clock he did the same thing. At five o’clock that evening he was in town again and saw some more people standing around. He asked them, ‘Why haven’t you been working today?’ They replied, ‘Because no one hired us.’ The owner of the estate told them, ‘Then go on out and join the others in my vineyard.’

That evening he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first. When those hired at five o’clock were paid, each received a full day’s wage. When those hired earlier came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage. When they received their pay, they protested, ‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’

He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? Take it and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be angry because I am kind?’ And so it is, that many who are first now will be last then; and those who are last now will be first then.

Let’s take a broad-stoke approach to this passage which will further illustrate, in parable as well as live-action, the point Jesus makes at the end of Chapter 19 – Things are not what they seem to you. In fact, most of your natural way of evaluating things and people is foreign to the way God orders them, sometimes even completely opposite. He is specifically talking about the way we put people into categories of importance.

His first illustration is a parable, a story about an estate owner who hires people all through the day for the work that he needs done. He points to the natural calculations based on the duration of the job. Then contrasts the natural view with the perspective and prerogative of the owner. He can do what he wants with his money and he decides to pay everyone the same wage for the day, though some worked all day and others barely worked at all.

The natural view responds by concluding that the owner was unfair. If you are inclined to look at things through your natural, “common sense” eyes, then you immediately agree with the worker who is not happy and join his class-action against the owner. But for what? He got a full day’s wage. If he hadn’t been privy to what the owner paid the others, he would have gone home very pleased that he had gotten work and satisfied that he had put in a full day’s work. But he watches as the owner first calls the ones who had just gotten there and pays them what he expected to get paid for the full day. He begins to have a flush of excitement because he would naturally get much more. That excitement turns to disappointment when he receives the same amount.

Jesus is saying two very simple things. Almost too simple for our adult constitutions to receive. First: God can do what He wants. He is God, not common sense or even our religious sensitivities. He doesn’t take into consideration our expectations and conclusions, no matter how right and wise they may seem. Second: The same salvation is offered to every one who calls on the name of the LORD. Saved is saved is saved. Remember what Jesus said when the disciples came back from their missionary trip rejoicing because the demons obeyed them? Don’t rejoice in that. Rejoice because you are a registered resident of heaven.

Neither personal effort or ability is a factor in the equation. That’s a great thing for those of us who are not Paul the apostle or Billy Graham or have not even been a Christian for very long. God offered salvation, I took it, I’m saved – HALLELUIA! I just took it. The rest is His doing too. He can do what He wants. My part is just letting Him. His plan can be that I’m a smiling, happy, blessed, influential Christian or a persecuted, broken, impoverished, despised Christian. The point is, HEY! I’m saved! The external wrapping is just the context in which He illustrates the irrefutable, earth-shattering proof that His salvation is for everyone. There is no more powerful witness of the truth of God’s existence than a saved human being.

Then as a personal revelation of this very concept, the LORD of lords, King of kings, Name above all names, draws the disciples aside and tells them in effect, “I, God incarnate, the highest of all – will become the lowest. I am going to be despised, broken, impoverished and killed.

The first will be last and the last will be first. This reveals a whole new meaning to I am the first AND the last.

The important thing to get here is that we don’t see things like God sees them. That one little warning flashing across the bottom of the screen of my little pea brain would keep me out of a lot of trouble!