Article: Are you Envious of the Master’s Generosity? | Jacob Varghese

In Matthew 20:14 it is written “Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you”. This is a verse from one of the many beautiful parables Jesus spoke about. Jesus tells the parable of the workers in the vineyard in response to Peter’s question in Matthew 19:27 “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” Peter wanted to know that what reward would be given to those who give up everything to follow Jesus. In response, Jesus explains this truth about the kingdom of heaven. This parable is found only in the gospel of Matthew.
Planting, maintaining and harvesting vineyards in the first-century Israel was strenuous work requiring hard physical labor in the heat of summer. Often, additional labors were required to get all the work done. The owner of the particular vineyard went to the market place at the first hours of the morning to find workers for the day. Here it refers to a few men who were not able to find a job but hired by this land owner to work at his vineyard. At first he finds and hires people early in the morning and agrees with them for a denarius and then the third, sixth and ninth hour he goes again and sees people standing idle and he hires them as well and then he goes out one more time at the eleventh hour and still finds people. He hires them also but they don’t talk about the wages. These men were called from different places and at different working hours agreeing to the wage at the time they began to work. He offered wage of one denarius, a Roman soldier’s pay for the day at that time, was generous indeed. The workers in the first group were more than happy to work for that generous wage. As the day progressed and more workers were hired, the specific wage was not mentioned, but the land owner promised to pay “whatever is right”. His words mean whatever is just. Apparently, the workers were sufficiently confident of the land owner’s character that they trusted him at his word. Altogether, five groups of workers were hired, the last group just one hour before the end of the day.

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However after finishing their work, when they came to collect their wages, everyone received the same amount including the workers who worked for a longer period. When the first group saw the last group being paid a denarius and was naturally thinking they would be paid more since they had worked the longest. Though the land owner paid them on the agreed sum but not everyone is happy. They grumbled at the land owner saying this last group worked only one hour and you have made them equal to us, who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat. Their anger against the land owner spilled fourth when they saw they would all be paid the same, even though they got exactly what they had been agreed upon when they were hired. Those who worked from dawn did not appreciate this and argued with the master. But he replied to one of them friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a Denarius, take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to the last one as I give to you. The land owner was forced to defend his actions to the first group, even though he had dealt with them in perfect fairness according to the contract. The full day workers were understandably resentful. But we are not told how the one hour shift people respond. May be they had rushed back to their homes thinking the land owner might have a change of heart. However the actions of the land owner seem crazy for us. They make no sense from an economic perspective.

But the land owner whose decision to pay all the workers the same; was an act of mercy-not injustice-it represents the act of God, whose grace and mercy are shed abundantly upon those of His choosing. In Romans 9:15&16 it is written “For he says to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy’. It was not because that they did not receive the promised wages amount but it was because those who worked for a shorter time also received the same amount just like them. But the master did not give heed to their complaint. Human beings have one unfortunate character where one’s concern is not limited to what they received or what they have, rather dwell more on what the others received and murmur about it throughout their life. If we have everything needed in life, we should not be concerned about what more others have and remorse over what we do not have. We should not be displeased with others who have a better job, home, vehicle or a better living in any way. We should be grateful to God for everything we have and live a satisfying life and glorify God. God will never be unjust to us. Always remember that we are not worthy of all the blessings we enjoy, while we were idle and not doing anything God appointed us for work. He called us so that we can enjoy all these blessings. Many others are more qualified and with more abilities yet have not received an opportunity in life. As they stand weakened in front of their desires, let us stand before our God being faithful who provided us with our basic needs. The almighty God has the authority to give it to the people whom He pleases which no one can question. Let us thank God for all of God’s blessings to us.

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In the matter of salvation, His grace and mercy are given to those whose self-righteous works could never obtain it. We are all sinful and fall short of the glory of God, but His grace is sufficient to redeem all who believe. Whether God calls someone early or late in life to partake of His grace, the glory and praise of our salvation is His and His alone and in no way amounts to unfairness. Just as the land owner has a right to do what he wishes with his own money, so does God has the right to have mercy on whom He will have mercy. We live in the world where we talk a lot about fairness and that leads to many laws and policies being created to deal with unfairness. Same way in this parable, fairness becomes an issue; the land owner hires laborers throughout the day, when laborers are paid, those who started work in the beginning of the day noticed that their pay is equal to those who started work much later and they felt that they were not getting what they deserved.
Let us break down the parable in details. First principle Jesus highlighted is the problem with how we (that is you and I) view fairness and there are three parts to it. Fairness number one is emotional, its response is not based on some biblical principle, second it’s all about getting what is my benefit from this in all that one does and third fairness is based on inflated perception of what one think what s/he deserves. Satan felt the same that he deserved to be a ruler over God and he is even now planning to try again to get that position by whatever means possible. The second principle that Jesus is teaching us is the way the land owner dealt with workers in the vineyard represents God’s dealing with humanity, the custom of today is that we are compensated for the work accomplished and we expect to be paid only on the agreed sum, what Christ is showing through this parable is the principle of His kingdom which is not of this world and as such is not a subject to any human standards. In the parable first group of laborers agreed to work for a denarius and they received just that nothing more or nothing less, those later hired believed the master’s promise-whatever is right that they shall receive; they showed their confidence in the master by not asking questions about the wages they were paid, not according to the amount of their labor but according to the master’s generosity. At the time when Christ was on the earth the Jewish nation was first called to labor in God’s vineyard, then because of this they became proud and self-righteous because they worked so long in the vineyard, they thought they deserved more than others and once they heard that gentiles were equally called to work in the vineyard as well, they were not happy. Today we can be exactly in the same situation, God invites us all to be labors in his vineyard and no matter at what time we were called. To all is promised the same reward but he warns us of the danger that is waiting in our hearts and that is of self-righteousness. Jesus teaches us a lesson of trust we need to have because his reward is not going to be based on our merit but rather on his abundant mercy and justice. God does not care how long I work-one, three, six, nine or twelve hours? He is interested in my motives what is in my heart and why am I doing that for a reward or rather out of a principle. The view of what is fair has been severely distorted that is why we need to be careful in judging matters based on God’s principles of fairness, equity and justice rather than the emotional shallow approach detached from God as the world practices today. In doing that we need to realize that the grace of God has given us the undeserving people what many would consider unfair. And only because God is good we are given these immeasurable benefits.

It is a parable of God’s graciousness. It shows God’s tendency to give and care. It violates our instincts about fairness. It’s a story about people in need who spends the whole day waiting to be hired but doesn’t find success until the end of the day. In Jesus’ time, these would be the weak, infirm, and disabled. May be the elderly too, and other targets of discrimination such as criminals or anyone with a bad reputation. A God who is just then is inclined to show special generosity to the poor and outcast. If we are composing a list of people who have to wait all day long to get hired in our current settings, we need to add the unemployed and underemployed also to the list. Those who cannot get hired until 5pm are not necessarily just people wearing rags or drug addicts but many are college graduates, highly skilled and capable people. However, grace is the central theme of this parable. But in it, we meet a group of laborers whose master wasn’t very happy because they failed to identify the grace the master expressed unto them, that is why in Matthew 20:13 the master ironically used the word friend to address one of them. I recognized few reasons from this parable as to why we fail to walk in God’s grace. 1. The spirit of judgment. -Those wicked laborers decided the latecomers didn’t deserve a full day’s wages. It was none of their business.2.The spirit of Competition-It is interesting to note that those laborers were not offended by what they received but, what was given to others.3.The spirit of rebellion- The laborers verbally argued against the master simply because the master’s actions seemed very unfair to them. In this parable, God’s justice that got everyone to work and everyone was given the essential earnings to feed his family. The inequity of their varying hours of work was offset by the inequity of their varying strengths and abilities, and this is God’s justice, not that we get what we deserve, but that we get what we need. God’s justice arises out of a sense of community in which we see the eleventh hour workers as our brothers and sisters whose needs are also as important as our own. See Matthew 19:30 & 20:16 Many who are first will be last and many who are last will be first.—These words point obviously not only to the general fact of the ultimate reversal of human judgments, but to the individual case of which the disciples had made themselves the judges. So the last will be first.—this, then, is the great lesson of the parable, and it answers simultaneously the question whether we are to see in it the doctrine of an absolute equality or in the blessedness of the life to come. The teaching implies that the good people who have suffered for the sake of God will win salvation.

JACOB VARGHESE

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