“I Deserve Better”
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 20:4 (Holman) To those men he said : “You also go to my vineyard, and
I’ll give you whatever is right.” So off they went.
At 6 a.m. the landowner enlisted workers for a day’s wage, one denarius. At 9 a.m. the landowner found others doing nothing. They were willing to work when given the chance. They simply had not been afforded opportunity to work.
Could we, like our Master, go enlist some to labor in the Lord’s field? Many people we know are doing nothing significant. They want their lives to matter, but stand idle. They’re often waiting to do something important, and only lack being invited to God’s Kingdom. Do we resist enlisting people different from ourselves?
Notice the positive attitude of faith this 9 a.m. crew showed. They trusted the landowner’s heart. Believing he would do right by them, they required no contract, no written agreement. They did no bargaining; they showed only trust.
Matt. 20:5-7 About noon and about three, he went out again and did the
same thing. Then about five he went and found others standing around,
and said to them, “Why have you been standing here all day doing
nothing?” “Because no one hired us,” they said to him. “You also go
to my vineyard,” he told them.
To hire field workers as late as 5 p.m. seems a bit useless, but the landowner put the latecomers to work anyway. They had little time to work, but were welcome in the field. The landowner had compassion on the hired help, people who lived on the edge of survival. Slaves were relatively secure due to being attached to a family. But starvation was a real possibility in a field worker’s life.
The landowner cared for the workers as well as the crop. He hired them not as much for what he could get from them as for what he could give to them. Even late in the day, he was determined to find as many workers as possible to bless.
This well pictures what Jesus did for us before we were saved. He came to find us in our meaningless marketplaces. He cared for us too much to let this mission of mercy be done by proxy. He was for us like the landowner who himself went out five times in one day to find laborers. Jesus refused to give up on us.
I’m glad Jesus saved me, as it were, at 6am, when I was six. He has granted me the unspeakable privilege of serving Him a lifetime. I’m also grateful that, at 5pm, He saved a dying thief on a cross. Grace can work with repentance to undo the guilt of decades of sin. I must always remember it took as much grace to save me at 6am as it did to save the dying thief at 5pm. Whether child or adult, the same amount of grace is needed. It’s grace, grace, all of grace, every step of the way.
Matt. 20:8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard told his
foreman, “Call the workers and give them pay, starting with the last
and ending with the first.”
The Bible, a book championing the poor, commanded, “The wages due a hired hand must not remain with you until morning” (Lev. 19:13b). An employer was required to pay laborers at the end of the day so they could buy food to take home to their family. The poor couldn’t wait to be paid. They had hungry mouths waiting at home. The landowner, knowing their need, had compassion on the poor.
In an odd twist, the landowner told his foreman to pay the last workers first. He did this for dramatic effect. This detail will give the story its power punch.
The early arrivers, the ones who came first, needed to see what was about to happen to the latecomers, who came last. Had the early workers been paid first, they would have taken their money and left, thereby missing the moral of the story.
Matt. 20:9 “When those who were hired about five came, they each received one denarius.”
To the amazement of all, these last workers received the full day’s wage that had been promised to the first workers. The landowner, appreciating the trust and willingness shown by the last laborers, paid them not for the value or worth of their work, but as a gift, reminding us God always bargains by grace, not debt or merit.
On a personal note, this parable brings us face to face with what our story will be someday. The day’s end points to the end of our lives, to the final Day of Judgment when our lives will be weighed. We each have but one day, one lifetime, to labor. This life is at best a short time. We must make every day count for Jesus.
Matt. 20:10a “So when the first ones came, they assumed they would get
more,. . . .”
Due to what happened to the latecomers, the early arrivers saw a huge bonus in their future. We sense them licking their chops. “A landowner this generous with the last will surely give a big bonus to the first. We will receive 12 denarii.”
Matt. 20:10b “. . .but they also received a denarius apiece.”
Uh oh. The first received no more than the last did. The result was envy. They did not respect grace, or share the gracious spirit of their employer. Do we?
A Christian should never envy anyone for any reason. Jealousy sucks poison from sugar. The envious multiply their own suffering. They hurt not only due to their own bad events, but also due to the good things that happen to others.
Grace is hard for us to grasp. Have we ever been tempted to say in prayer:
God, I deserve better than this.
I didn’t sign up for this, Lord.
Why do others get away with their sins?
Why do sinners have more than I do?
Jesus, does serving You really make any difference?
When we pray based on works we are praying not in Jesus’ name, based on what He has done, but in our name, based on what we have done. This is not good.
We are to serve as children, not mercenaries. Replace “I’m ready to receive rewards I earned” with “What a joy and honor it is and has been to serve the Lord.”
Matt. 20:11-12 “When they received it, they began to complain to the
landowner; “These last men put in one hour, and you made them equal to us who bore the burden of the day and the burning heat!””
“You made them equal to us” is the telling confession. It pinpoints the root of their fury. We are too often prone to think we have too little of God’s bounty, and others have too much. We think we overwork, and they underwork, for Jesus.
This lack of Christian love ruins our witness. Two men were once debating, are seats or rented pews better in a church? The one who favored walled-in pews said, “If there were seats only, I might find myself sitting by my coachman.”
This was not the attitude of General Wellington, who became iconic after he defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. Once a poor man knelt at a prayer rail, and seeing the General next to him, gasped, and started to leave. Wellington caught his arm and said, “Here we are all equal.” Amen. There are no gradations under the cross.
This discontent of the field workers is the hinge of our parable. It proves how incompatible the notion of showing grace is to hankering for greater rewards.
The farther removed we are from our conversion we tend to think more of our sacrifices for Him, and less of His for us. If we yield to this way of thinking, “the burden of the day and the burning heat” will eventually become oppressive.
In Luke 15, Jesus told the parable of the two lost sons. Each brother was a prodigal: one in his deeds, the other in his attitude. The older brother would have been happier had the younger son stayed gone, and only sent some wealth home.
In our gathering here today, are there more elder brothers, or more repentant prodigals? We all at one time were the prodigal, but it is easy to become the elder.
The parable of the field workers teaches two lessons about how Christ-followers will be treated on Judgment Day. One, God is just; no one will receive less than promised. Two, God is merciful; all will receive more than deserved.