Jesus told many stories and parables during His time on Earth. He made many profound statements, and oftentimes, those statements were contradictory to what the societal norm was at the time and what we still consider to be normal to this day.
Matthew chapter 20 begins with Jesus giving a parable about laborers in a vineyard. He goes on to tell about a master who needs to hire workers for the vineyard. He hires several workers after agreeing to pay them a certain amount. The master then goes out four more times to hire more workers at different hours of the day.
When the workday is finished, the laborers all line up to receive payment. Much to everyone’s surprise, the master begins to pay all the laborers the same amount! Those who had worked from dawn until dusk were disappointed that they had not been paid more than those who had only worked a few hours so they begin to complain. The master responded by reminding them that they had agreed to be paid the amount. He tells them that he is choosing to pay those which had worked fewer hours this amount as well. As I read this passage, I put myself in the shoes of the laborers hired at dawn and I find myself thinking that this seems unfair! Surely those who work more hours deserve greater compensation, right? Why is it that our human nature in this situation is to feel greed and resentment at this “unfair” treatment rather than gratitude and happiness for the rest of the laborers who get to share in our reward?
Jesus finishes the parable in verse 16 with the statement, “So the last will be first, and the first last.” This is a profound and backward statement by societal standards. Imagine watching an Olympic race but instead of trying to win the race, everyone is fighting to be the last to cross the finish line. While humorous, that would not make much sense! What Jesus is trying to convey here is that none of us deserve anything. None of us deserve to go to Heaven when we die and we certainly cannot earn it according to the amount of work we do. The only way to receive the reward of Heaven is to accept the invitation of Jesus. Our human nature is to compare ourselves to others, but we need to instead be grateful for the wondrous gift offered to us and be joyous when others accept the gift of Jesus as well.