The Parable That Disturbed Me

Shobana Vetrivel   |   February 27, 2024 

Perhaps this sounds a bit sacrilegious, but there is a passage in the Bible that I could never get past reading without getting a bit worked up. In Matthew 20:1-16, Jesus tells a parable about an owner of a vineyard who goes out one day to hire labourers to work in his vineyard. He settles the daily wage amount with them, and they begin to work in the field. Then he goes and hires more labourers throughout the day. Some work the whole day in the scorching heat, and some put in an hour’s work.

However, at the end of the day, everyone gets paid the same amount whether they worked the whole day or just a few hours. What?! Every time I read this parable I would get worked up. Everything in me screamed that this was unfair.

The way the story is told heightens this tension even more. The ones who were hired last get their pay first. Everyone can see how much they are getting. The ones who worked the whole day are now expecting that they will get more, but they get the same amount! They rightfully begin grumbling about this, and the master says, “Look, you agreed to work for this amount; I am not doing you any wrong. I choose to give to the last worker as I give to you. Do you begrudge my generosity?”

I would feel for all the grumbling workers and find myself answering, “Yes, I begrudge this generosity!”

I realised one day while reading the parable why I felt this way. Each time I read this parable, I would see myself in the story as the labourer who was hired first and has worked the whole day. After a hard day's work, he then has to see others getting paid the same amount without doing as much work.

It is very natural for me to see myself as the labourer who is hired first and gets the agreed-upon wage. He feels that he should get more because he has worked more than the others who came later. This is natural for me because this is how I used to approach God, and often still do. My natural tendency is to try and earn God’s favour through my work. I rely on my performance and expect God to respond to me based on it. In other words, I am more interested in what I have to offer to God than what He so graciously offers me.

Jesus tells this story precisely for an audience like me - the ones who need to be reminded again and again that our righteous acts can never curry favour with God. If I’m honest, my "work" for Him is often so coloured by self-serving motives that it distances me from truly enjoying and experiencing God.

God, in His mercy, showed me where I was going wrong and changed the way I read the parable. When I saw myself in the story as the worker who comes in the last hour my whole perspective changed. Now, I experience the joy of the generous and lavish master who graciously gives to the last-hour worker what he doesn’t deserve.

The beauty of the gospel story and God’s Kingdom economics is that all of us are like the labourer who comes in the last hour and receives the full day’s wage. We are recipients of God’s lavish generosity and abundant grace. We get what we don’t deserve. Because of Christ’s finished work, we who were once enemies of God are welcomed into His kingdom. We experience the riches of God’s grace, and we are to extend this grace to one another.

Whenever you read this parable next, may God’s spirit reveal His lavish grace afresh in your heart, and may your heart rejoice and rest in Jesus and His finished work.


Photo by Priscilla Du Preez 🇨🇦 on Unsplash

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Shobana Vetrivel

Shobana Vetrivel enjoys the hustle and bustle of city life and the adventure of living in New Delhi. She has an educational background in social development and theology and has worked in both development and ministry settings. She currently works with Delhi School of Theology and is pursuing a PhD in Practical Theology. Books, travelling, theology, coffee and deep conversations are a few of her favourite things.  

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One comment on “The Parable That Disturbed Me”

  1. Hi,

    I guess this parable gets fulfilled at the time of the cross, when the robber on one side offers his sympathy to Jesus and also professes that he believes Jesus is the Son of God. He gets to be with Jesus in paradise the same day.

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