These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day. — Matthew 20:12
“It’s my turn!” “How come they always get to be first?” “That’s no fair!” If you have ever lived in a household with children, phrases such as these were probably heard quite frequently. Even as adults, we can sometimes fall into the trap of wanting everything to be fair.
About a year ago, the printer for our computer reached the end of its life. It was at least six years old, and since I had used it to produce documents for a job I performed at home, it had printed thousands of pages. However, the time had come to replace it. When I started looking at newspaper ads in an effort to find a bargain on the most modern product, I was attracted to the new models which would not only print documents from the computer, but also scan a document or picture, send or receive a fax, or serve as either a black and white or color copy machine. What a great deal! Then, I was even able to shop at a store that not only advertised a great price, but also offered two rebates. Feeling very pleased with myself, I purchased this wonderful new machine. Imagine my chagrin, when less than six months later, the company manufactured the same product with an additional feature — the ability to print digital photographs directly from a memory card. No fair! It’s amazing how quickly the feeling of satisfaction caused by the fantastic price, money saved through rebates, and convenience of a machine that would do several operations was replaced by the feeling that somehow I had gotten a bad deal. And we don’t even own a digital camera that would allow us to take advantage of the additional feature!
In today’s text, the first workers hired must have had similar feelings: They had negotiated with the owner of the vineyard to receive certain wages for a day’s work. As the day progressed, they noticed that new workers came to the job site — some arriving only an hour before quitting time. When it came time to receive their wages, those who had been hired first watched the latecomers receive payment. They no doubt calculated that since these latecomers received the amount that had been agreed upon early that morning, then those who had been there all day would surely receive more. How great was their disappointment when they realized that they, too, would only be receiving the agreed-upon “penny” for their labors! That just didn’t seem fair!
Providing motivation by the promise of a reward is a strategy often used with children, and is called “positive reinforcement.” Perhaps the parent will tell the child, “If you will do thus and so, then you will get this reward.” However, God wants us to serve Him because we love Him, not because we are adding up the blessings and rewards we expect to receive for our service! Our desire should be to do whatever we can to further His kingdom, without expectation of reward here on earth. True, a fellow Christian may have been blessed with a bigger house, a nicer car, better looks, or any of the other things that are important in our society. But in the long run, what does that matter?
Instead of complaining, “It’s not fair,” let us focus on the fact that God promises to provide our every need here on earth, and that a much greater reward awaits us in Heaven!
It is likely that the disciples were present when the exchange between Jesus and the rich young ruler took place which is recorded in Matthew 19:16-22. Since the Jewish people of that day believed that riches were a sign of God’s blessing, they may have felt that the more good works a person did, the more deserving they would be and the greater their chance of obtaining an eternal reward.
In Matthew 19:27, Peter voiced what the other disciples were thinking when he exclaimed with dismay to the Lord that they had given up everything to follow Him. Surely they would receive a reward for doing so! Perhaps the thought of a reward was a partial reason that some of them had become followers. The hardships, rebuke, and scorn they had endured while following Christ may have made them feel that they deserved special rewards.
As He often did, Jesus chose to illustrate a point to His followers by using a parable. The landholder represents God, and the workers represent Christians throughout the ages. Even though they were called to service at different times throughout the day, they were rewarded equally when it came time to distribute the payroll. This is a reminder to us that whether we are one of the first called, as the disciples were, or the last person saved before our Lord’s return, we will each receive the reward of eternal life.
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
V. Instructions of the King in light of His opposition
B. Instructions in light of His opposition
10. Instruction concerning rewards (19:27 — 20:16)
a. Peter’s question (19:27)
b. Christ’s answer (19:28-30)
c. Christ’s answer illustrated (20:1-16)
Have you purposed to follow Jesus whatever the cost, and without thought of how great a reward you will receive? If your desire is to serve Him because you love Him, then you will receive untold riches in Heaven.