The Hired Workers

Matthew 20: 1-16
Jdgs 9:6-15 / Psa 21:2-7

What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Don’t I have the right to do as I please with my money? Why be envious of my generosity?
(Matthew 20:14-15)

God called us first that we may lead,
And leaders pay a higher price;
Since He provides all that we need,
Then we must learn to sacrifice.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. About nine in the morning 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 noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon 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 five in the afternoon 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 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, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one 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.” (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?

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 lessons that our Lord wants to impart here are: first, it is by grace that He rewards His workers, just as it is by grace that we serve Him in the first place. Secondly, what matters is not the reward that God gives to those who work for His kingdom, but our response to the challenge of serving Him when His invitation comes. We must 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 generous. Finally, Jesus said, “the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Like the apostles, being chosen first bears a greater responsibility than being chosen last. This is what “servant leadership” is all about. He who places himself last here on earth (in terms of a heavier cross to bear) will be first in heaven. This was also emphasized earlier when Jesus assured His apostles that they would sit on 12 thrones in heaven to judge the 12 tribes of Israel. In His own mysterious way, God favors the least, the lowliest, and the last. After all, didn’t He say “those who humble themselves will be exalted”?

In serving You, O Lord, I hold on with delight to the words of Your prophet: ‘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). Amen.

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