Matthew 20: 1-16

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 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.”

Understanding And Applying the Text

This parable is a continuation of the last sentence of the previous chapter. “many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

This parable is a hard saying for those who don’t realize their utter dependence on grace. We rely on the grace of God for everything. God gives as He chooses.

Some commentators reduce this to everyone will be equal in glory. This is because our inheritance is not by meritorious works. Rather God gives it as a gift.

But the point of the parable is not equality of glory. Christ declares that the chronologically first have no boasting rights. Nor are they to insult those who came later. The Lord calls whom He pleases when He pleases. Then He then He rewards as He pleases.

Some interpret this passage, as between Jews and Gentiles. God called the Jews first. God made an agreement or covenant with them. The Lord promised them eternal life if they kept His Law. When He called the Gentiles, there was no agreement or covenant in relation to works. He offered salvation as a free gift in Christ. But that understanding is not reasonable. Jesus did not distinguish between agreements but in time. God promised the Jews through works of the Law (Leviticus 18:5). But we know this had no effect. No one has ever obtained salvation by meritorious works. (Galatians 2:16)

But why does Christ mention an agreement with the first group? There is make no mention of it with the others. It shows there was no injustice to any group. The master offered the first group a denarius. That was a normal day’s wage. To the others, the master promised: “whatever is right.” The last group received the same as the first. The first received what the master promised. They received a day’s wage. But every other group also received a day’s wage. There was no injustice. But there was grace.

The first group complained they did not receive more. They had worked longer than any other group. They bore the heat of the day. The last group work an hour in the cool of the evening, Yet they received the same as everyone else. You can hear the cry. “That’s not fair!”

The first group got what the master promised. But others had received the same amount. The first group was thinking about works, not grace. The master of the house asked what was wrong with him giving his money away. Why can’t he give it to whomever he wishes? Why can’t he give it for whatever reason he wishes?

That is the point of the parable. God gives the gift of the kingdom of heaven. He gives it to whom he wishes. But here is something that is often overlooked. The first had also received grace. The master chose them to work in the vineyard. The master did not need to choose them. But he did. In other words, we receive salvation by the grace of God alone. We do not earn it. It is a gift from God. Our labor also is a gift from God. God chooses whomever He pleases for whatever reason He pleases.

God owes nothing to anyone. Those of us who offer Him service only offer what we owe Him.

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