The Benevolent Landowner

Matthew 20: 1-16
Ezek 34:1-11 / Psa 23

… are you envious because I am generous?’ Thus the last will be first, and the first will be last.
(Matthew 20:16)

Though unfair at first it would seem,
Who can ever fathom God’s ways?
Not by merits are we redeemed,
But only by His loving grace.

“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. Did you not agree with me to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. What if I wish to give this last man the same as I gave you? Am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ Thus the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20: 1-16)

Reflection

The laborers who grumbled failed to appreciate the generosity of their employer and show gratitude for their livelihood because they had a misplaced sense of justice. Who knows the landowner might have given them extra pay when they were paid last if they had not grumbled but expressed their gratitude and appreciation instead? The first complained not because they were paid less, but because the last were paid more. Thus they placed themselves last in the eyes of the landowner.

We cannot compare the world’s standard of fairness to God’s brand of justice. This is evident in the benevolent landowner who decided that a living wage must be paid his workers not so much for the length of time rendered, but more importantly for them to be able to support their family’s needs in a way consistent with human dignity.

In this parable, the landowner clearly represents God, and the vineyard as His kingdom. The lesson that our Lord wants to impart here is that it is by grace that He rewards His workers, just as it is by grace that we serve Him in the first place. The question is not how God qualifies or rewards those who work for His kingdom, but how we respond to the challenge to serve Him when His invitation comes. We must all be ready to grasp the opportunity for service, and rejoice in whatever reward is forthcoming. God alone knows the value of every individual’s service for His kingdom. But we can rest assured that when the rewards come from our gracious Lord, they will not only be just, but more than generous.

Try Me in this, says the Lord of hosts: if I do not open the floodgates of heaven, to pour down blessings upon you without measure (Malachi 3:10).

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