MATTHEW 20, 1-16
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
“About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace 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 the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
“ ‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.
“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
“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. 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 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?’
“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
WELCOME TO GOD’S VINEYARD! Some of you have been laboring in God’s vineyard for a lot of years. From the day of your baptism until today. Maybe 70 or 80 years. Some of you have come into God’s vineyard later in life and haven’t yet serve that many years. Some of us may seem to have difficult tasks in that vineyard, enduring hardship after hardships. Others of us may have had easy tasks in the vineyard. And yet when the evening comes and it’s time for the Lord to give us our reward for our labors, like those workers in the vineyard, each one of us will receive the same wage. Oh, not a “denarius!” Each one of us will hear the same message from Jesus. “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Come and enjoy the bliss that I have prepared for you from the beginning of the world.”
And how will you react to that fact? Like those workers in the parable, grumbling because “It’s just not fair!” Or will we rejoice at the mercy, grace, and love that God bestows all of us wretched sinners?
Let’s study this parable and hear Jesus tell us, just like that land owner said to those day laborers, WELCOME TO GOD’S VINEYARD!
This was a common picture. Men would come into the marketplace early in the morning looking for a job. That is how they took care of their families. On this day, the owner of the vineyard “agreed to pay them a denarius.” Both the owner and the workers came to an agreement. He would pay them a “denarius,” a typical day’s wage. Perhaps more money than necessary for a common laborer, but both the owner and the workers were very pleased with the amount of money they would make. And so, they went.
And then the owner goes back to the market place at the “third hour,” around 9:00 a.m. and then at the “sixth hour,” around noon, and the “ninth hour,” around 3:00. He told them to go into the vineyard and he would pay them “whatever is right.” And finally, he found people still standing around at the “eleventh hour,” around 5:00 and sent them into the vineyard. And I’m sure these men were happy to have a job. Even a part of a day’s wage would go well in their ability to take care of their family.
And at the end of the day, when it came time to give these men their wages, the owner gave each and every one of them “a denarius.” Each one got a full day’s pay, even though some of them didn’t work an entire day. And that’s where the problem came in! When it came to those who had been hired at the beginning of the day, those who had worked the entire day “when they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner.” And we might agree with them. I mean, it's just not fair. “You have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work, and the heat of the day.” We’ve worked hard all day long and some of these guys haven’t worked an hour! And yet you pay them exactly what you pay us! It’s just not fair.
We may even try to justify our reactions by saying, “That type of foolishness will foster laziness. It’s going to allow workers to think, “I don’t have to be at the market place at 6:00 in the morning. I can sleep in until 10:00, have a leisurely lunch, get to the market place by 3:30 and get hired and then paid for an entire day’s work. And that’s not good for people. What this land owner did was foolish and dangerous. It angered the men who were faithfully working for him, and encouraged lazy bums to try to get something for nothing.
But why did these men grumble like they did? “When those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more.” These men had agreed to work for this man for a “denarius.” They knew that this meant they would be bearing the burden of the work, and the heat of the day. And they were content with what this man had generously offered them. When they had finished their work, they were happy to be receiving a denarius to take care of their family. It was only after they had seen how generous this master was to these other workers, that they got upset. They looked at things from their vantage point, and expected the owner to agree with them. They assumed that the owner would agree with their logic.
These men didn’t even try to look at things from the owner’s perspective! Not once did they think about the love and mercy that this landowner would have on others who were in need. There was absolutely no love for these men who also needed to take care of their family but didn’t have the opportunity because no one would hire them. Not once was their any love for their fellow workers, and appreciation and respect for this kind owner. Their eyes were focused only on themselves; on their over inflated estimation of their value as workers, and on their greed to get what they thought they deserved. That’s why they grumbled!
But then, again, isn’t that why we Christians begin to grumble about our lot in life. When we look at how God has blessed us, and protected us throughout our life, and given us grace beyond grace, we rejoice at what an awesome God we have. But what happens when we look at what other Christians have. They don’t seem to have half the problems we have! In fact, they seem to have an easy life. They seemed to be blessed so much more than I am. That’s when I get jealous! That’s when I begin to grumble. That’s when I get angry at God for not taking care of me. I get upset because God doesn’t seem to love me the way I think He ought to love me. I get angry because God doesn’t seem to care about me. And the reason that happens? Look at where my eyes are focused! On me and my selfish opinion of what God ought to be doing for me! On my selfish opinion of I should have from God! Not on the awesome wisdom, grace, and mercy of God! Not one glance at the desperate needs of my fellow Christians, and what God does for their lives. Just on me and my disappointment of the way God happens to be taking care of me.
That’s why these men in the parable grumbled! And that’s why we Christians grumble as well. That’s why Jesus tells us, “Look again at that vineyard!” Really look at God’s Vineyard!
And now we see the huge difference between God’s vineyard the vineyard in the parable. In the parable these men were hired to work in that vineyard because the master needed people to harvest his crop, and because these men needed a job. It was a mutually beneficial relationship.
When it comes to God’s vineyard, the only reason we are even welcomed into it is because our God went looking for us, and when He found us, He cleansed us with the blood of Jesus, took away our sins, and made us acceptable to God. And now that we are part of God’s vineyard, we are at peace with God, we are protected from sin and Satan, and we have the assurance of eternal life in Heaven. Being welcomed into God’s kingdom assures each and every one of us of the same thing. When we die, we will open our eyes in Heaven. Not everyone is admitted into God’s Vineyard! Only those who have been brought to faith in Jesus. And everyone who is admitted to God’s Vineyard, gets the exact same reward. Eternal life in Heaven.
And now that you are part of God’s Vineyard, there is work to do. Like those workers in the parable, God will expect us to bear “the burden of the work and the heat of the day.” How many years will God ask you to do that? That’s up to God! What tasks will God be asking you to do? That too is up to God! Will He ask you to give up your life as a martyr like Stephen? Or will He ask you to live a long and prosperous life to show the grace and mercy of God? Will He ask you to go through one turmoil in life after another? Or will your life be pretty uneventful? Again, that’s up to God. God has work for you to do, work that only you can do, hearts to touch, that only you can touch, souls that need to see the grace and love of God, that only you can show. God has fruit for you to harvest, that only you can harvest. And the work God gives us to do is glorious. Sometimes, He will show us the results of our labor. Hearts that have been comforted by our words. Souls that have been changed by our actions. Tears that have been dried up, and lives that have been filled with joy by the gospel we’ve shared. And sometimes, He may not show us the results of our labors. In fact, sometimes, it may seem that we haven’t done one bit of work for God, and haven’t made a difference in the life of anyone. And when that happens, we simply keep on “bearing the burden of the work, and the heat of the day,” like we’ve always done, and leave the results up to the Lord. Rejoicing that God has placed us in His vineyard, and given us the opportunity to do His work, and given us the eternal reward He has prepared for all His people.
There’s one thing these grumbling workers said that rings true in God’s vineyard. God has indeed made each and every one of those workers, “equal to us.” We are all the same. None of us deserves to be here! Each one of us has experienced the grace mercy and love of God in our lives. And each one of will be singing praise to God together for the rest of eternity. So, whether you’ve been working in this vineyard for 90 years, or just joined last week, whether your labors seem to be difficult or easy, rejoice in each other because each one of us is here only because Jesus had told each of us, WELCOME TO GOD’S VINEYARD!