Jesus tells a story in Matthew 20 about a farmer who goes out and hires workers for the day to work in his fields. He promises each worker a fair day's wage. But halfway through the day, he finds he needs even more workers, so he goes out and hires more. Then about an hour before quitting time, he goes out and hires more. Finally the long, hard day is over and all the workers line up to receive their pay. He starts out by paying the ones who came to work last, and then he pays the others who started at noon until finally he comes to the people who worked all day. Of course they expect to get more than the people who only worked one hour!! So when they get the same amount, they start to complain. Wouldn't you?
But he answered one of them, Friend, I am doing you no injustice. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this man hired last the same as I give to you. Am
I not permitted to do what I choose with what is mine? [Or do you
begrudge my being generous?] Is your eye evil because I am good? So those who now are last will be first then, and those who now are first will be last then. For many are called, but few chosen. Matt 20: Amplified
This story used to bother the heck out of me. It just didn't seem fair! We Americans are obsessed with things being fair, aren't we? We've been blessed to have grown up in freedom where we have all had the opportunity for success. Granted some people have had to work harder to get there than others, but we've all had the same opportunity. So, we are quick to say when something isn't fair!! Why should so and so get paid more than we do for less work?
But the truth of the matter is, this is not so much an issue of fairness as it is an issue of the heart. The employer in this case is completely fair. He gave each worker what he agreed to give them. No more, no less. The problems come when we begin to compare ourselves with others, when we think someone else is getting something that we deserve. As I read this passage, it occurred to me that there are two malevolent forces at work here: Pride and Selfishness. Both of these, in my opinion, are the reason for all of mankind's problems!
You see, if these workers truly loved their neighbors as themselves AND if they weren't obsessed with promoting themselves and making themselves look good, they wouldn't have even noticed or cared what any of the other workers got.
In fact, we can project this story into eternity (as Jesus was ultimately doing). Those of us who've been Christians for nearly our entire lives and who have slaved away for God, given up ourselves and taken up our crosses to promote His Kingdom, denied ourselves things and pleasures of this world, well certainly we would expect a greater reward then let's say, a famous movie star who spend his life squandering his fortune on wine, women, parties, pleasures.. only to receive Jesus on his death bed??? I mean. that wouldn't be fair if he got admitted into Heaven with the same privileges we got??
Perhaps this reminds you of another parable Jesus told of the Prodigal son who came home after squandering his entire inheritance on pleasurable living and his father threw a huge party and killed the best calf for dinner, and the other son who'd been slaving away for his father for years got angry. It wasn't fair!
You know, I used to think the prodigal son was the bad one in that story, but lately I'm starting to realize that it was the son who stayed home who was the most evil. Why? Because his heart was filled with pride and selfishness. He didn't love his brother. He wasn't glad his brother came home and was saved! He only thought of himself and how unfairly he felt his father was treating him. This is the message of the story. And also of what Jesus is telling us in the first parable.
The problem is not only the condition of our hearts, but also where our hearts truly are! In truth, the workers who were privileged to work for the father all day were the most blessed! In truth, the son who didn't run away and squander his wealth, but stayed home with the father, was the most blessed. Why? Because he was with the Father the entire time!! He didn't have to endure the pain and consequences of sin. He was priviledged to spend his days and nights with the Father. The same for the workers who worked all day. They didn't waste their day doing nothing or worse, doing something that ultimately hurt them and their loved ones. No! They got to spend the day working for their Father.
In His presence is fullness of Joy! Psalm 16:11
If you don't feel that way about God and the Christian walk.. if you look at the pleasures of this world with a longing in your eye, and consider being a Christian drudgery, then you don't truly Know the Father! If you did, you would rejoice with workers who come in at the last minute, you would rejoice when the prodigal son returns. And you would be sad along with them that they wasted so much of their time away from the Father!
A single day in your courts is better than a thousand anywhere else! I would rather be a gatekeeper in the house of my God than live the good life in the homes of the wicked. Psalm 84:10