Big Idea: Rewards in God’s Kingdom do not correspond to our expectations.
If you listen to the State of the Union addresses given by Presidents throughout the last several decades, you will notice that they spend very little time on the big numbers. Despite the title, the State of the Union is not primarily about the birth rate, the military’s capacity, or the economy. Instead, the President makes a point and backs it up with stories, often of people he has carefully selected to be in the room. This is no accident. Every gifted speaker (and every parent!) knows the power of a story to engage, challenge, or encourage. A story can slip past our defenses and draw the truth. A story can fester in our hearts, remembered but not comprehended until the right moment. It is no wonder that the Bible records thirty-seven parables of Jesus, about a third of the total teaching of the Master Teacher.
Our knee-jerk response to the parable of Matthew 20:1-16 is probably the same as it was for Jesus’ listeners in the first century. Every diligent student remembers with horror what it was like to be assigned a group project; you did all the work, and the freeloaders got an A too. Consider a more adult example: Imagine you worked hard for a company all year. The hours were long, the work was challenging, but you did your best. Then someone else came in to help with the holiday rush and received the same salary for a month as you did for a year. You would probably not be sending your boss a Christmas card.
We have certain expectations of what is fair, and we get angry when those expectations aren’t met. But in this parable, Jesus takes that reaction and exposes its rottenness. What right do we have to be angry when someone else receives more than they deserve? Does God’s grace toward them somehow mean we get less? Of course not.
One of the greatest temptations we face is the self-righteousness that leads to arrogance. We compare ourselves to others and delude ourselves into believing that we are worthier than they are. But here is the truth: In God’s Kingdom, no one is getting an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. You do not want God to square up your account, I can assure you. We have been offered grace when we deserve judgment. We are adopted into the royal family when we have committed high treason. If someone comes to faith at the end of their life, do I have any right to compare the super-abundance of grace they receive with the super-abundance of grace I receive? If I think someone is not pulling their weight, what kind of wake up call do I need to realize that I am not either? Grace smothers our expectations of justice.
Discussion Idea: Who is someone in your life that seems to always be there for the reward but half absent from the work? How does God’s grace toward you soften your feelings about them?
Prayer Focus: Praise God that He is not fair, but gracious.