“Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them,‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.” Matthew 20:1-16
Reading through the passage for iFocus, the phrase that struck me was ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong.’
The workers who had started work first complained to the Master that they should have been paid more and that the workers who had worked the least did not deserve their wages. As master of the house, He had every right to get angry with these complacent, unappreciative and discontent workers. Yet, he chose to address them, not as an master would do to an ungrateful subordinate, but as a friend. The master addresses them patiently and graciously as ‘FRIEND‘.
We Christians are the workers in the vineyard, and many a times, we go up to the Lord and compare ourselves to another Christian –
‘God, why do they get a better salary than me? Why do they get better grades than me? I don’t just go to church on Sundays, I pray to you every night, I honour you, I keep your commandments, so why is so-and-so doing as well/even better than me?’
‘God you know how hard I have been working. I have been a Christian longer than them. Surely, You are being unfair.’
But the Lord simply says to us ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong … Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’
Indeed, God has done us no wrong. The master, at different times of the day, personally negotiated with the different groups of workers on their pay. Each of us have a personal relationship with God; He personally ‘hired’ us and agreed with us on our wages. What other people have negotiated with God is really none of our business.
In fact, sometimes God’s logic and notions of fairness and justice is different from ours. As a previous part-time worker, I was paid by the hour. Of course I would be hopping mad if someone was paid the same as me if they took half a day off! Yet, God says ‘I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you’. God reinstates His sovereignty: ‘Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?’
At this point, I paused and looked at verse 16 – ‘So the last will be first, and the first last‘. What does this mean? Beth provided insight. The last are those who have been called into the faith in the last hours. They have nothing to give to God, no long years of toil for the mission. They have nothing … but Jesus. They rely on Him so much. That is why the last probably go first, because by His grace, God rewards the humble and the undeserving, giving them ‘hundredth fold and eternity life’ which is more than what they would have ever expected from the short time they started believing in God. Of course, this is not to say that the workers on the earlier shifts are otherwise.
Again, I refer back to ‘Friend, I have done you no wrong.’ And somehow, it links me back to Jesus’ words at the cross ‘Father forgive them for they know not what they do’. Here, the role is reversed! In the Parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard, the workers thought the master had wronged them, and despite this, the master treated them with utmost love and friendship. At the cross, the people did in fact sin against Jesus, and again despite this, Jesus looked up to heaven and with his last breaths, forgave them even though they were undeserving.
What Jesus did on the cross was what He meant in the verse ‘Or do you begrudge my generosity?’. God’s generosity was to die on the cross for us. Perhaps, those wages are not only about the rewards we get as Christians, e.g. the blessings, salvation, eternal life. Maybe those wages are Jesus’ sacrifice at the cross. Indeed, God is so generous. He didn’t have to recruit those four groups of workers, in fact by 9pm, He probably didn’t even need workers. But he hired them because they were idle workers with no aim in life and no hope. And even when he hired them, He did not need to pay them all equally.
God is so, so, so gracious, loving and kind. For me personally, sometimes I find it hard to feel grateful everyday for what Jesus has done on the cross. Sometimes I lift my hands up in church and ask God for me to really, truly ignite my soul and for me to be thankful for what Jesus did. But maybe because I have felt it for so long, I feel a bit numb.
So, for me to see the master’s words ‘Friend, I have done you no wrong’, it reminds me of the times when I have hurt God and yet, Jesus still chose to embrace me and call me friend. He has hugged me all along, even before I was born.
THE ONLY TIME HE EVER STOPPED HUGGING ME WAS TO STRETCH OUT HIS ARMS AND DIE ON THE CROSS FOR MY SINS.
And for that I am grateful. For that, I will always feel. And for that, God is gracious and generous. I am happy to be a labourer in the master’s vineyard, regardless of what I get or don’t get. My relationship with God is personal and it is not for me to say how God touches others and what He gives to them. My focus is on God, and not myself. Amen.
Jesus at the center of it all
Jesus at the center of it all
From beginning to the end
It will always be, it’s always been You Jesus
From my heart to the Heavens
Jesus be the center
It’s all about You
Yes it’s all about You