A man in my church passed away earlier this year. He was gifted, funny, and had a lovely personality. He also had a son who is lost from the world. Drugs and alcohol have controlled his son’s life for years, yet the father wrote his son’s name on a prayer request card every Sunday. He never gave up hope that his son would be saved. Knowing the full measure of blessing that comes from a relationship with God, the father prayed earnestly for his son to receive this fullness for himself even after decades of estrangement. It is never too late to come home.
In our passage today we see a group of vineyard workers who are in the middle of a labor dispute with the foreman. Some worked a long, hard day in the blazing sun for their wages. Others were hired at noon, and still others came in an hour before quittin’ time. Yet they all received the same wage. Unfair! The workers protested.
Matthew 20 (The Message)
1-2 “God’s kingdom is like an estate manager who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. They agreed on a wage of a dollar a day, and went to work.
3-5 “Later, about nine o’clock, the manager saw some other men hanging around the town square unemployed. He told them to go to work in his vineyard and he would pay them a fair wage. They went.
5-6 “He did the same thing at noon, and again at three o’clock. At five o’clock he went back and found still others standing around. He said, ‘Why are you standing around all day doing nothing?’
7 “They said, ‘Because no one hired us.’
“He told them to go to work in his vineyard.
8 “When the day’s work was over, the owner of the vineyard instructed his foreman, ‘Call the workers in and pay them their wages. Start with the last hired and go on to the first.’
9-12 “Those hired at five o’clock came up and were each given a dollar. When those who were hired first saw that, they assumed they would get far more. But they got the same, each of them one dollar. Taking the dollar, they groused angrily to the manager, ‘These last workers put in only one easy hour, and you just made them equal to us, who slaved all day under a scorching sun.’
This is something the man in my church understood. If his son were to give his life to Christ tomorrow, he would receive the same wage as the father who spent his ninety-plus years following Jesus. It’s never too late to receive equal pay. That’s how generous God is and the reason why we should never stop hoping and praying for the unrepentant to turn their lives toward God.
13-15 “He replied to the one speaking for the rest, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair. We agreed on the wage of a dollar, didn’t we? So take it and go. I decided to give to the one who came last the same as you. Can’t I do what I want with my own money? Are you going to get stingy because I am generous?’
Is there someone in your life that you’ve almost given up on? Are you praying for a friend or family member to find Christ? Don’t give up. The reward is great. Even those who offer a deathbed confession are eligible to come into the Kingdom at full pay.
16 “Here it is again, the Great Reversal: many of the first ending up last, and the last first.”
This last sentence stands as a warning. If you’ve been “earning your keep“ all your life and think there are categories of people you won’t have to suffer in heaven, think again. All those people you assume won’t get in because of their sin will likely be seated right next to you at the heavenly banquet. God decides to give to those whom he decides to give. He owns the vineyard and determines what is fair. His measure of fairness is weighed in grams of grace, mercy, and unconditional love. Better get ready now. And by the way, they might not be expecting to see you, either.