Jesus’ parables each have a main point, and many of them center on the precious gift of salvation, the exceedingly generous forgiveness of God, and the importance of every person in the eyes of God.
Each parable has wonderful additional lessons, too.
In Matthew 20, Jesus tells the story of laborers in a vineyard, each starting their work at different hours of the day. While they worked alongside each other, everything seems to go smoothly (no news is good news, right?). The issues begin when they get paid.
Those who came at the eleventh (the late) hour of the day received a denarius (v. 9). A full day’s wage for an hour’s work is not a bad deal, and these late day workers are likely grateful for the obviously generous payment.
As the steward paid the others, surely the early morning workers were taking note: those who worked 3 hours got a denarius, so did those who worked 6 hours, and those who worked 9…
Finally it was the early worker’s turn, “and they likewise received each a denarius.” (v. 10)
And they get mad. But why? They worked a full day, and they got a full day’s wage. The owner even said they previously agreed to the exact wage (v. 2, 13).
Comparison has often been called the thief of joy, and that is true. I’d also call it the kindling of pride.
They make their complaint clear: “These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to use who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.” (v. 12)
They thought they deserved more not because of their work, but because of their work compared to someone else who got paid the same.
I’d wager they would have been content if they were the only workers in the field. Maybe the 9-hour workers could’ve slipped by, and they would have muttered under their breath but no more. But this disparity was too much for them.
If anything, the owner was egregiously generous. But so what? “Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?” (v. 15) Why does my generosity rub you the wrong way? Why does my gift to others make you so angry when you got the same thing?
It’s only when I remember that my hours of work don’t make me more worthy than others that I have the right estimation of myself. Comparing myself to those who have been walking with the Lord for decades, I shamefully wonder if I’ll make it at all. Comparing myself to those who just learned of the existence of John 3:16, I swell with pride at my many sermons, Bible studies, colporteuring, Bible working, writings…
But it’s all a gift. The opportunity to even be in the vineyard is a gift. The strength, talents, wisdom, and joy in the work — all gifts. The denarius — a gift. Co-laborers — countless gifts. Hours in the sweltering heat gives more opportunities to see what’s growing in our Lord’s vineyard, but it sure doesn’t earn anything.
Decades of ministry, Bible studies given, writings written — even these are precious gifts, not trophies for us to use as bargaining chips. The woman with 75 years of ministry under her belt, myself, and the thief on the cross are the recipient of the same gift for the same reason: Jesus gave it to us.