We all have moments where we see someone who has something we want.
When we see others receive a blessing we don’t have, we sometimes ask, “Is God treating me fairly?”
The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard in Matthew 20 gives us answers.
In this amazing parable, God illustrates that He doesn’t always reward His servants in the way we expect.
“What do I get?” is a question we ask a lot.
We humans are very concerned with what we get!
It’s like there’s a constant calculation going on in our heads that determines if we are being recompensed fairly for our work and time. That calculation sets off sirens and flashing red lights when we think someone else is getting more than us.
We don’t really grow out of our obsession with fairness. You probably don’t cry and pound the table anymore if someone else gets the biggest piece of cake, but you might get furious at the thought your coworker is getting paid more than you.
Or at the thought that God is giving more to someone else than He is to you.
That little calculation in our heads is on the watch, looking at our friends’ and family’s social media feeds. It sets off a little spark of jealousy when you hear your friend got a new job or a nicer car.
It asks the question, “is God rewarding me fairly?”
We’ve all asked the question, “What do I get for serving God? I give up my time, money, and energy. What’s my reward for all this?”
Peter asked the same question in Matthew 19, a familiar story of a rich man who comes to Jesus.
While this man is very confident in his good works, his refusal to sell what he has and follow Jesus revealed that he cared too much for his earthly goods.
This leads Peter to ask the question: what will he and the other disciples receive for a reward?
After all, they left everything to follow Jesus. Jesus’ answer in verses 29-30 is both comforting and intriguing:
“And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life. But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.”
This is sounding pretty good! We get one hundred times whatever we give up for Jesus? And eternal life? Awesome!
Then there’s this little line at the end: “But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.” What does that mean? Jesus gives a whole parable to explain it. You should read it for yourself in Matthew 20, but I’ll recap it for you.
A landowner hires men to work all day (12 hours) in his field for one denarius, a Roman coin that was the standard wage for a day’s work.
Every three hours he goes and hires more workers and promises to pay them whatever he deems is right. Finally, he goes at the eleventh hour (when there is only one hour of work left in the day) and hires one last group of workers.
When it comes time to pay, he gives one denarius to the workers hired at the eleventh hour. Wow! A full day’s wage for one hour’s worth of work! Those guys that worked all day are getting excited. If the master is paying a full day’s wage for one hour of work, they should be able to expect 12 days’ worth of wages for only 12 hours of work.
Yet when the master comes, he gives them … one denarius; the same as those who only worked one hour.
That little calculation in their head sets off all the alarms. This isn’t fair at all! How could the master pay them the same as the guys who worked for one hour when they had worked twelve? It’s unfair! It’s unjust! Imagine that you had a coworker who worked one hour per day but made the same wage as you for the same job. You would be angry!
How does the master respond to their anger? Does he explain that these other workers all had PhDs in field-working so their labor was worth more? Does he explain that they produced as much in one hour as the others did in twelve?
No. He just reminds them that they agreed on the wage and he has not treated them unfairly. He essentially tells them, “Look, I paid you what I said. We agreed to it. I haven’t been unfair to you. Why would you complain about me because I decided to be generous to someone else? Can’t I do what I want with my own money?”
No, the master wasn’t unfair to them. No, it doesn’t make sense to be angry at him for being a generous man. Yes, he does have the right to do what he will with his own money. Yet there is something in all of us that just hates the idea of someone having more than us! “That’s not fair,” we cry! We want fairness. We demand it!
But the truth is God isn’t fair; He’s good! The parable illustrates that God rewards his servants according to His own pleasure and grace. This is what Jesus means by “the first shall be last, and the last shall be first.”
The way the master rewards doesn’t always make sense to us!
You may suppose that perhaps the “eleventh-hour” workers worked much harder than the others.
Maybe they did something to earn their reward. You may suppose that, but you’re missing the point. The point is that the master rewarded them because he is a generous, good man, and it pleased him to do so.
The reality is God doesn’t dole out rewards based on how hard we work for Him.
That’s how man rewards.
At a job, those who produce more receive more, but God operates according to grace. That means that there are times when we may see others receive rewards that we don’t think they deserve, and we may be right!
But that’s a reason to praise God, not murmur against Him. Will we be angry at God because He has chosen to be gracious to others?
There are a few truths to learn from this parable.
First, we don’t actually want God to reward us fairly. What we truly deserve is God’s wrath and judgment for our sin. If God were to truly reward me fairly, I would have nothing but pain and judgment for what I have done.
I’m glad that God actually gives me infinitely better than I deserve!
Second, when it seems that others have more than us, they really may have more than us; and that’s ok! God has given us so much; why should we do anything but rejoice if he chooses to give one of our brothers or sisters more?
Lastly, don’t forget that Jesus gave this parable in response to Peter’s question: “What will we get for following you?” The answer for Peter, and us, is that we can trust our gracious heavenly Father to reward us what He deems is right.
We won’t always understand why God rewards the way He does. There will be times we see someone receive a blessing and we think, “Really, God? You blessed THAT guy? What about me?”
The truth is we serve an amazingly good God who has given us so much more than we deserve.
We can trust God to give us what’s right.
This is a wonderfully comforting thought because our God isn’t just fair; He’s good!
Take some time today to reflect on how God has been good to you.
Instead of focusing on what others receive, trust Him to give you what’s right.