I guess I’m a little iconoclastic, but I love to find and study and teach about sections of Scripture that most people don’t know much about. Today’s passage is a parable with which most people aren’t familiar, but it has some pretty deep lessons and raises some important issues for all of us.
In order to understand the story, you need to be familiar with how farming was normally done in the 1st century. I remember driving through downtown Fort Worth during the morning and seeing lots of men hanging around under a bridge as I passed. They weren’t bums or homeless people; they were day-laborers looking for work. I actually saw a pick-up truck loading some guys into the back and driving off, maybe to a construction site or a home-repair job. This is how crop harvesting was done during that time. The owner or foreman would go to the city square, negotiate a wage, and bring men back to the field to work for the day, and of course the wage would be dependent on how desperate the laborers were to work and how desperate the landowner was to get his harvesting completed.
You can read the story yourself, so I won’t repeat it here. But that leaves us with the question in the title. Well, to paraphrase a recent President, it depends on your definition of “fair.” By that term do you mean treating everyone the same? If so, absolutely not. Do you mean it as a synonym for “just,” meaning giving everyone what they deserve? Well, in a way, since my sins have to be punished and the price for them paid, either by me or by my Substitute. Or by the term do you mean giving everyone a proper portion? By some people’s definition of fairness, the landowner should have given a much lower wage to the Johnny-come-lately who showed up at the last minute. I mean, don’t the early workers have a point in their complaint? They'd worked longer hours and bore more of the burden than the guy who showed up at the last minute.
But the landowner, speaking from God’s perspective, countered with logic which is hard to refute. This was his money, to do with as he pleased. He'd agreed to give the first workers a denarius, and he'd given it to them, thus keeping his word. If he chose to give the last worker ten times or a hundred times what he paid them, that was his business!
This story has so much application on many levels, but let me focus on just three. First, there's the presentation of the good news here. None of us deserve to be in heaven. The Lord has promised to save each one of us if we place our trust in Christ as Savior and Lord. All of us are in this sense beggars, showing up as the last man did, deserving nothing good but receiving much more than we ever dreamed of earning. He's certainly kept his word. I think I need to credit Dr. Sproul with this, but someone pointed out to me a long time ago that on Judgment Day, absolutely no one will get worse than they deserve. No one. A lot of people--myself included--will get far better than we deserve, but no one will get worse.
Second, this does have an application for us in the next world. Naturally, this passage has to be taken in context of what the whole Bible teaches about eternal rewards. None of us deserve to be in his presence, but he does reward us according to what we’ve done for him. So what does this say about that? All believers are going to the same heaven, and none of us can boast about being there. There'll be people there who've done much worse things than I've ever done. There'll be murderers there, child-molesters there, people who've done indescribable acts of brutality to other people. I'm going to share heaven with them. If you haven’t struggled with that concept, then maybe you haven’t wrestled enough with the full implications of the Good News.
And finally, it speaks to our sense of fairness vs. God’s plan for us. Have you ever struggled with envy? Have you looked at how he's blessed you vs. how he’s blessed others, and felt cheated by him? If so, this story has a word for you as well: It’s none of your business how God decides to bless someone else! What do you really deserve from God? Oh, that’s right—hell. Anything this side the Lake of Fire is pure grace. He’s already blessed you so much, and for you to look at how he decides to bless someone else is extremely ungrateful, to say the least.
So what has he said to you through this story?
Lord Jesus, just like Job I need to close my mouth when confronted by your grace and majesty. You've been so good to me, and if you decide to bless someone else ten-thousand times what you’ve given me, I just need to grateful. Thank you.
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