The parable of the vineyard workers in Matthew 20: 1 – 16 was one which I never truly grasped. We all know the story: the owner of the vineyard hires workers at various hours of the day but, at the end, pays them all the same amount. It always stymied me, because I wondered why the owner seemed so unjust; unfair, even. And since Jesus drew an analogy comparing this to the Kingdom of God, it seemed even more incomprehensible.
Until recently when I heard this story being narrated to kids in our Sunday School and it suddenly fell into place. The truth hit me with blinding clarity. It was so simple and yet so profound.
The vineyard workers were upset with the owner for a very justifiable reason – they had worked and they deserved payment according to the effort and time they had put in. Their blood, sweat, and tears had to amount to something; that is probably what they thought. They definitely deserved more than those other guys who’d barely worked an hour! All logical, fair arguments.
Yet, the owner had a completely different perspective. He didn’t value their performance. He valued them. Each. of. them. And in His eyes, they were all of equal worth. Not their effort. Not the time they spent. Not the amount of work they did. But themselves.
It was humbling to realize that is how my Lord loves me. Although I try to “earn” His love by my performance, He is not impressed by it. And thank God for that! Unfortunately, I always try to bargain with God about how much I deserve to be in His kingdom because of what I may or may not have done. And all the while, God is saying, “My child, I love you. Just come. You don’t have to prove anything to me. I accept you.”
As I wondered why I always felt the need to pray, “Lord, what do you want me to do for You?” (aka the how-can-I-serve-You prayer), I realised that deep down, it was a matter of pride. I don’t like being beholden to anybody, even the God of the universe. I am a sinfully independent creature who’d rather crave a crutch of my own making to prop me as I totter on my feet. How unnecessary and foolish!
Instead, if I truly heard what God was saying, I would learn something rather different, for what Yahweh offers is liberty. The liberty to be with Him without having to earn my way there! There are no performance appraisals in His kingdom. When I stop measuring my worth based on my performance, I will stop comparing myself with others, for instance. I am free to not envy another’s ministry or gift because God has blessed them with it and ultimately, it glorifies the One we both love. So I can thank God for His goodness instead.
Another aspect of the parable that struck me was that there were several vineyard workers. They came in batches but there were a whole lot of them. And the owner saw them all the same way. I know that this is Christianity 101 – that Jesus came to die for all sinners -- but I think that, for the first time, the magnitude of the multitude hit me. I mean, we are talking centuries and generations of humans! God loves every single human being – past, present, and future – exactly the same. He wants each one to come into His Kingdom. He grieves when even one soul is lost. Imagine that for a second. I was blown away! Here I was, pretty much happy to know that my family and I were going to spend eternity with God, when all the time, He is keeping the gates open for all humanity whom He loves to bits! I had such a narrow view of whom God loves until the barricades came down and the crowds came into view.
This is not something new. God has always loved all people – even those whom we’d consider to be undeserving of love and acceptance. Take Jonah and the people of Nineveh for example, of whom God says: “...should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left...” (Jonah 4:11).
So as I celebrate Christmas this year, my prayer is that I will stop focusing on myself and my family but rather look outward, with my Father’s perspective, to the multitude of people all around me who don’t have an inkling of the hope that is being held out to them. And instead of being overwhelmed by the sheer scale of this “outreach program,” I will instead step alongside God and pray that He will pour out revival on this land. That the Holy Spirit will fall on men and women, young and old, rich and poor, so that one day, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow...and...every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10, 11)