Over-Complicating God’s Fairness: Matthew 20:1-16

Focus Passage: Matthew 20:1-16 (NIV)

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

“About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.

“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

“‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Read Matthew 20:1-16 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

Have you ever heard a joke and missed understanding the punch line?

Have you ever listened to an illustration and missed the main point of what was being said?

I have, and I wonder if many of us miss the underlying themes present in some of Jesus’ most famous parables. In our self-centered minds, we turn an illustration about God into being a reflection of ourselves.

Our passage in this entry is not exempt from this challenge. In fact, it might be one of the main ones that gets twisted by our thinking. This parable is about the Kingdom of Heaven – and that means it will show us a part of God’s character and how He acts. All too often though, we can miss the point and focus on the people in the parable who we can relate with – the jealous ones who thought they would get more, or the late-comers who are happy to even be paid at all.

All this time, we are missing the point. We love the cliché-quotation that “The last will be first”, but we ignore what this parable is trying to teach us: God is unbelievably generous with His gifts and blessings.

We can parallel this passage with our lives, and the reward God gives us at the end of our lives (which I’ve written about in a previous post on this passage), but even that is missing the point: God is unbelievably generous.

When we dig into how God is generous, we see a simple concept of “fairness”: You worked, He pays. [Period]

Our own human nature wants to complicate the scenario by bringing in other variables such as, “How long was each person working?”, “How hard was each person working?”, or even “How productive was each person being?”

This is not God’s character. It’s ours. It would seem that God’s definition of “fair” is way more basic than our complicated, ever-shifting-to-our-own-benefit version of fair. All too often, we will compare ourselves to the others who work alongside us and look at how we are more qualified, how we worked harder, or how we have been more loyal and expect to have a higher pay because of the variables. We like seeing situations where the “new guy” is paid less because of inexperience, and though we might not like it, we understand the environments where those who have been working the longest, are at the top of the pay scale.

But this is not how God works. He has a very simple concept of “fairness”: You worked, He pays. [Period]

While this does not appear “fair” to us, remember that this is God. He can do whatever He wants. [also period]

Jesus concludes this parable with a simple truth about God in the form of a rhetorical question: “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money?” (v. 15)

God is unbelievably generous. He pays us way more than we ever deserve. Don’t be “envious” because He is “generous”.

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus "Reflective Bible Study" package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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