“’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.” Matthew 20: 14-16
In the parable, the landowner hires workers early in the morning, promising them a fair wage. He goes back four more times, hiring the last lot at five in the evening, near the end of the work day. But, he pays all the workers the same, causing – in our human terms – understandable jealousy. Why should someone who showed up to work in the evening be paid the same, when I’ve been here working since dawn? Who among us wouldn’t feel that way?
Jesus uses this parable precisely because it is counter to our human nature. We expect to “get what we deserve.” We expect to get more when we feel we’ve earned more. We fear getting less, especially if we feel we’ve put in more. But, the grace of Christ is not measured that way. The least are the greatest. The last are first. We do not get what we deserve; we get infinitely better.
We can’t earn this grace, yet it’s freely given, no matter how far short we fall, no matter how late in the workday we show up. We all play the latecomer at times, less deserving than those around us. And, we’ll play the early worker: working longer and harder, only to see God’s grace shine equally on those who barely made it to the vineyard by the end of the day.
The one constant in that equation, no matter how late or how early we show up, is God’s love. God calls us to accept that love, to love ourselves and others without stopping to judge worth – to take our pay and go, and to do his work in the vineyard unencumbered by the weight of jealousy.
Lord, help us do your work today confident enough in your grace to know we do not need to waste our energy in jealous judgment – not of ourselves, and not of others. Let us accept your grace as a gift freely given, and put it to good use in building up your kingdom. Amen.