The fourth and final message in our series, What’s More, explores the teaching of Jesus in “parable of the laborers” (Matthew 20:1-16). The previous messages in this particular series have been building up to our reading of this parable. Reading the parable within the context of the extended of Jesus to his encounter with the rich young man helps bring further clarity to the emphasis of the parable.
The series began with an introduction to the story of the rich young man, who wished to know what he must do to enter into life. The series engaged this inquiry, the response of teaching, and the curiosity of the disciples in preparation for our reading of the “parable of the laborers.” The primary teachings of the series has been as follows”
- One cannot earn eternal; rather, it is a free gift of God;
- While eternal life is freely given, reception of this gift comes with a cost; and,
- No one can offer anything (their cost) that is comparable to the abundant blessing offered in eternal life – here, understood to be everlasting existence in the presence of God the Almighty, which has been made possible through the reconciling act of atonement of Jesus Christ.
A unspoken issue has been running through the course of these exchanges, which is finally brought to the surface in the “parable of the laborers” — the fairness of God.
- The rich young man grieves to learn he must release himself from his great wealth so that he is free to receive the invitation of Jesus to enter into a life of discipleship – Is is fair for him to pay such a great cost…
- The disciples are curious to know what they can anticipate to receive since they have already given everything and entered into a life of discipleship with Jesus — Is it fair for them to give everything and not receive more…
The fairness of God is running below the surface of this encounter between Jesus and the rich young man, his response to the young man’s rejection of his offer, and the disciples anticipation of their reward…
Jesus does not only speak to the fairness of God through the “parable of the laborers”, he declaratively puts the issue to rest!
You can read the full story of the parable here.
The basic synopsis is that a vineyard owner hired five groups of laborers to work in his vineyard on one particular day. Each group of workers were hired at different times of the day – from the earliest hour until the last hour. The vineyard owner called for his manager to gather all of these men at the end of the day and to pay them equally – the fair wage for a day’s work. The men who had worked from the earliest hour and during the hottest part of the day fully expected to receive more than those workers who had only been in the vineyard for an hour. They grumbled when they received the same wage as the others – the fair age for a day’s work.
The vineyard owner explains his rationale for paying all of the same men the same wage. And, he concludes his explanation with two rhetorical questions:
- Am I not able to do what I choose with what belongs to me?
- Are you envious of my generosity?
The parable is a beautiful expression of the paradoxical nature of the kingdom of heaven as well as the generosity of God.
A rich young man and a group of disciples struggle with the fairness of God, while they may not have realized it – is it fair to ask for full devotion; and, is it fair to receive the same as those who have given less?
The declarative point of Jesus…
God has the authority to choose to do what God wants to do with the things belonging to God; and, God chooses to be generous.
That’s all the disciples needed to understand and that is all that you and I need to know: God can do what God wants to do with what belongs to God; but, the good news is that our God is generous and, for that reason, everyone can expect to receive an abundance of blessing far greater than anything any one of us could possibly offer. There is no cost greater than the abundant blessing of everlasting life in the presence of the Almighty made possible in the reconciling grace of God expressed through life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.
Previous messages in the series: