In the parable Jesus tells about day laborers working in a vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16), the God character doesn’t seem to come across as the good guy.
Sure, he is generous enough to pay the folks who worked a short day the same as he paid the folks who worked a long day. But he set up the payment scenario in a way guaranteed to irritate people who had worked the long day. They got paid last, after watching the short-hour workers get paid a full day’s salary.
What do you think is the reason Jesus created this story? Pick a point you think Jesus was trying to make, or create a guess of your own.
- God is in charge and he can do what he wants.
- God is generous.
- People who are saved at the end of their life will get the full reward of heaven, like those who were believers all their life.
- “Many people who were last and least in this world will be first and foremost in the world to come” (19:30).
Some Bible experts say Jesus may have created this parable to help answer Peter’s question, “What’s going to happen to us?” (19:27). The short answer Jesus gave appears in 19:30, “Many people who were last and least in this world will be first and foremost in the world to come.”
There is a seniority system going on here on earth. People who work longer and harder out in the field get more respect than people who don’t or can’t work those long hours. Same in an office setting. We reward people for the longevity on the job, unless we retire them early because they’re making too much money. Newbies on the job haven’t earned much respect yet. In a religious setting, we honor the longtime Christians and hold them up as models to help us see what we need to become.
Jesus seems to be saying the Kingdom of Heaven is nothing like any of this. People will be judged by Someone who truly knows them and will reward them accordingly.
When I was a seminary student I attended a church that was also attended by several of the top leaders of the denomination. Sometimes, people would step forward to be prayed for if they were facing some difficult situation or illness. When the denominational leaders were in town, they would join the church ministers and place their hands on those people and pray for them.
I don’t want to diminish the respect I had for the denominational leaders, but when my family and I faced hard times, the people I wanted to join me in prayer were my family and friends—the people who knew me best and loved me most. None of those people were famous, rich enough to fly first-class, or corporate leaders in the boardroom. They were teachers, secretaries, machinists, and stay-at-home moms.
Those folks couldn’t compete in a nationwide status contest. They would have been losers. But as far as I was concerned, they were the winners and the most important people in my life.
Others would call them last and least. I called them first and most.