Jesus continued to teach his followers about what the Kingdom of Heaven is reeeeeally like:
For 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.
God’s Kingdom often offers a surprising reversal of the way things are done on earth. The last will be first. The first will be last. Blessed are the poor. Woe to the rich. God’s secrets are revealed to little children. They’re hidden from the wise and learned. Humble repentant sinners are welcome. Powerful proud religious leaders aren’t. And on and on.
In today’s lesson, Jesus seems to be telling his followers that God’s grace is more than enough “payment” for everyone blessed enough to serve in his kingdom. It’s not like I get 1,871 grace points because I write a daily devotional but someone else earns 3,428 because they tend the nursery at church every week (although, frankly, I’d be OK with that – I’m not a huge fan of baby vomit and/or changing diapers).
God’s grace isn’t like a paycheck we’re owed. We can’t earn it by our measly human efforts. It’s not something that one person can have much of and another not so much. It’s all or nothing.
As Jesus recognized, there’s always a risk that his followers could get all proud and exclusive about being in his inner circle and maybe even a bit cheesed off when someone else comes to the party late. Instead, God’s out looking for those everyone else ignores, inviting them in and surprising them and others with the generosity of his amazing grace. We should celebrate when that happens, not grumble.
(Image credit: Shutterstock.com / mythja)