Summary: If we start asking ourselves who deserves to be forgiven, we soon find out that the answer is no one. No matter how hard we work, we can’t be “good enough.” The good news of the Gospel is that what can’t be obtained by good works,
A poor man walking in the forest felt close enough to God to ask, “God, what is a million years to you?” God replied, “My son, a million years to you is like a second to me.”
The man then asked, “God, what is a million dollars to you?” God replied, “My son, a million dollars to you is like a penny to me.”
The man asked, “So God, can I have a million dollars?”
God replied, “In a second.”
The story is told of an Englishman, a Frenchman and a Russian who discovered a bottle with a genie inside. One of them rubbed the bottle and freed the genie, who generously offered to grant one wish to each of the three. The Englishman went first, and wished that he would be granted a peerage and daily access to the throne. His wish was immediately granted. The Frenchman came next, and wished that all the beautiful women in the world would suddenly fall at his feet in adoration. His wish was immediately granted.
The Russian came last. Of the three, he was poorest. Of the three, his needs were greatest. The genie invited him to take his time and to think of the one thing that would give him the greatest pleasure in life. At that, his face lit up and he said, "That's easy. I wish that my neighbor's potato crop might fail."
The parable of the workers and the vineyard is like that. It proves that the old adage that “the first will be last and the last will be first.” Those who came at the first of the day had their needs met, but they could not focus on that positive aspect of their lives. Instead, their focus was on their neighbour who, though less deserving, also had his/her needs met. Instead of finding joy in their own circumstances, those who came at the first of the day found outrage at the apparent unfairness of the situation. They did not want more for themselves. They wanted less for their neighbor.
The parable is about a landowner who helps others. It’s about a landowner who sweeps up lost and idle people and gives them a purpose. The landowner hired workers at different times during the day, but he paid all of them the same wage regardless of the number of hours they worked. The workers who were hired first represented God’s chosen people of Israel, the recipients of God’s covenant promises. The workers hired last represented the Gentiles. They were offered the same salvation as the Jews through faith in Christ. They were part of the remnant Paul refers to in Romans 11:1-2, 29-32.
At first glance, this parable seems unfair. After all, it doesn’t seem fair to us that the workers who were hired at the end of the day received the same pay as the workers who were hired first thing in the morning. We must remember though that what is unfair to us is fair to God and vice versa. That’s because God’s kingdom does not work in the same way as our worldly kingdom. The parable is the story of God’s grace and how he gives his grace to anyone he chooses. Those who receive it are blessed beyond anything they can earn or imagine. In God’s eyes, there is no difference between a lifelong Christian and a person who becomes a Christian on his or her deathbed.
Jesus had a bitter message for Christians, especially their leaders. The followers of Jesus would sacrifice a sense of fairness for the Kingdom. Those who grew in the faith would feel lonely. Those who grew in ministry would feel abandoned. God does not have favorites in the Kingdom. But he does have the saved community where the most senior and the neophyte shared equally in God's very life. Indeed, the first would be last and the last would be first.
We are conditioned to judge value and estimate worth on the basis of compassion and merit. This is how the world operates, but that is not how God operates. God’s world is an economy of grace, and gratitude is the capital. God is free to do what is necessary to work out his will in our lives and in the history of the world. We are to wait upon God, and while we are waiting on God we are to praise him just like Paul and Silas did when they were in jail in Acts 16:25-40.
Our capacity for gratitude is directly related to our capacity to see and experience grace. The first workers in the parable were ungrateful because they saw the landowner’s method of rewarding his workers as unfair. They could not see and experience his grace. Likewise, sometimes we can’t fully see and experience God’s grace because we don’t always show gratitude. Sometimes we look at a deathbed convert and think that it was not fair for God to forgive him because we have been faithful Christians for a long time. When God forgives us, he breaks into our world of reward and punishment.