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“For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay the normal daily wage and sent them out to work.” - Matthew 20:1-2 (NLT)
I was walking through our Nicholasville Campus the other morning and the hallways were dark. At first, I could not see anything, but as soon as I took a step all the lights in the hallway came on. I love a good automatic timer. I love the simple message from the Lord in that -- as I heard Him say, “I will always light the path for you; just step out in faith and trust me”. I seem to best learn His truth by taking a common, everyday life illustration and seeing a Kingdom teaching play out.
In this passage of scripture, that is exactly what we see Jesus doing -- using an earthly illustration to teach a Heavenly truth. We are going to glean a lot about who God is this week as we dig into this piece of Scripture. In the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, we see grace as the central theme. We will run into a group of workers who get a little irritated with the way the landowner divvied up the wages for their work. And we will see just how incomprehensible God’s grace, mercy, and generosity really are!
God’s grace is a gift and yet I know I have personally wrestled with how generous He is -- to me and to others. The gratitude for His grace or the negligence of His grace -- it is a pendulum or tension that can keep us from living into the abundant life He promises us on a daily basis. Let’s get ready to be rattled a bit this week as we take a look at the role God plays in the illustration of the Landowner and the role we play as the Workers in the Vineyard.
“So he hired them, telling them he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day.” - Matthew 20:4 (NLT)
When I was in college, there was this award for Excellence in Service. I remember being so motivated to achieve that award. I worked and worked in a ton of campus ministries and organizations. On graduation day I remember sitting in my seat with butterflies in my stomach hoping to hear my name called. All my classmates sitting in the row with me kept looking at me as if to say, “You got this.” Well, as they were describing the recipient, I realized they have gone with another girl. A science major -- what? I was the ministry major!! I will never forget hearing the name, Stephanie Daungess. I wanted to sink in my seat! I learned an incredible lesson that day -- my focus was on the reward instead of on the work.
In this passage, we see the landowner enlisting workers. He went out seeking and saw a few guys standing around so he invited them to go work in the vineyard, saying he would pay them whatever was right. This unique turn of events would later serve to irritate the workers.
Being invited to join God in what He is doing is such a gift. And having the privilege of carrying out His assignment is an honor. What an incredible way to express our gratitude for all He has done for us. We all have been invited to be Kingdom workers -- no matter how long we have been on the journey. He is daily enlisting workers to be about His business. I love the challenge of a heart rooted in what we can give. I have found in my journey that the simple invitation to join Him is reward enough!
“That evening he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first.” - Matthew 20:8 (NLT)
A while back, I was enjoying field day at an elementary school in town. I had a little buddy I would visit each week. When I arrived that day, I found her with her face buried in her hands, not participating in the field day event. So, her teacher gave her a special privilege to come and sit with me under a tree. We chatted and she shared that she was sad. Not knowing what she was going through, the teacher gave her a special privilege of getting to do more events at field day and she WON the event!
V. 10, “So when those who came who were hired first, they expected to receive more.” Radical turn of events -- the incomprehensible goodness of God can be frustrating because His ways and His thoughts exceed ours. Jesus was wanting the disciples to learn to think like God thinks and not how they would reason out or measure God’s goodness. Jesus was using the illustration of the landowner calling the workers and paying them their wages, based on how He wanted to divvy that up -- not what they deserved. Jesus was wanting to ensure they understood the heart of God.
God’s immeasurable goodness is challenging -- who “deserves” it and who doesn’t? Not our call to make, but our gift to freely receive. That is radical and counter to our culture. His goodness is so difficult to fathom with our finite minds. To build our lives on the foundation of God’s goodness -- not based on what we do, but based on who He is -- is where our abundant life is anchored. His attribute of goodness is the very essence of who He is. His purpose is always for our good. And, affords us confidence and encouragement. Ultimately, it draws us near to Him.
"When they received their pay, they protested to the owner, ‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat." - Matthew 20:11-12 (NLT)
I remember doing a fundraiser for one of our ball teams once. We were stationed outside of a store. The boys all worked in shifts. But some boys had to stay longer because some could not come for their shift. They received some money but it was coming in slow. I will never forget when one boy came during the last hour to sell the fundraising cards and a customer walking into the store gave the boy $50 and said to keep the card. The other boys went crazy!!
Looking back at the passage, once the workers received their payment they grumbled instead of responding with gratitude -- their eyes were on the other workers and correction of the landowner. Here we are at the end of the day and it is payment time -- the workers fully expected payment that exceeded the amount given; especially more than the workers hired at the end of the day. They missed the whole point -- it was religion versus relationship. The landowner’s heart was that “at least they showed up”... but the others were irritated because they bore the brunt of the work in the heat of the day.
The Lord is inviting us to the kind of life He wants to partner with us to build -- a life filled with grace. This parable helps us see that there are no favorites and there is no special treatment in the family of God. Everyone is loved equally. And we are given the challenge to be excited that people receive the invitation God gives and excited that people receive God’s grace.
Let’s make it our aim to unleash God’s love toward others without comparing the blessing -- prayer we all come to see and experience the fact that to know grace is to extend grace. The incomprehensible grace of God can only become an irritation to those who filter things based on a human standard of merit and worth.
‘Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?’ “So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.” - Matthew 20:15-16 (NLT)
I heard from a coach this week who said their team is getting ready for regionals -- and they are only able to dress fifteen players, and only six play at a time rotating in and out. He said he knew some will be sad and others will be glad. It was an opportunity to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice. Ultimately, we can all come together for the good of the team and for the good of our goal at hand. As a team, they kept the focus on whatever it would take to get the job done -- they modeled an incredible attitude and the rally was inspiring.
In this passage, Jesus asks the question,”Should you be jealous because I am kind?” He is exposing the root of envy among the religious leaders. Which hinders our ability to be imitators of God’s extraordinary generosity. He reverses the order -- last will become first, first will become last. Rooted in the goodness of God and in His generosity. All Kingdom rewards depend on God’s goodness and His choice to be kind and generous. As we know in scripture, it is His kindness that leads us to repentance. Jews knew; Gentiles heard the gospel message later -- Jesus wanted them to have the same eternal privileges as the ones who have known this message.
Let’s never envy or hold a grudge when the Lord chooses to bless someone. The challenge we are given is to rejoice and share in their joy and the way He chooses to extend mercy to others -- not to mention the multiple times He extends mercy to us! This attribute of God affords us the opportunity to understand His nature even more -- He is good. He is kind. He is generous. His intention is to bring them to Himself.
Don’t fear that you will miss out on a blessing; be at peace because He loves all of us the same. He has enough generosity to go around.