Scripture: Matthew 20:1-16
Let me start this reflection with this story. Two brothers were called by God to give up all they had and serve humanity. The older responded to the call generously, even though he had to wrench his heart away from his family and the girl he loved and dreamed of marrying. He eventually went off to a distant land where he spent himself in the service of the poorest of the poor. Persecution arose in that country, and he was arrested, falsely accused, tortured, and put to death. Upon his entrance to heaven, the Lord said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You gave me a thousand talents’ worth of service. I shall now give you a billion, billion talents’ worth of reward. Enter into the joy of your Lord.”
The younger brother’s response was less generous than his brother’s. He decided to ignore God’s call and go ahead and marry the girl he loved. He enjoyed a happy married life, his business prospered, and he became famous and wealthy. Occasionally he would give alms to the poor. When it was his turn to die, the Lord said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have given me ten talents’ worth of service. I shall now give you a billion, billion talents’ worth of reward. Enter into the joy of your Lord!”
The older brother was surprised but pleased when he heard that his brother was to get the same reward as him. He wisely said, “Lord, knowing what I know now, if I were to be born and able to live my life all over again, I would still do exactly what I did for you.” This man focused not on his reward, but on generously giving his life to serve God and his kingdom.
In chapters 19 and 20 of his gospel, Matthew relates a similar parable about service and rewards. In this story, Jesus teaches that the kingdom of heaven operates very differently from the normal ways of this world. Both of these chapters talk about rewards given for sacrificial discipleship. But in this specific Parable, Jesus is telling us what the heavenly rewards system might look like. He presents a Landowner who promises to pay his hired laborers a denarius for a day’s work. The workers complain, however, when the pay is the same, whether the worker began the work at the beginning of the day or at the end. Even for our ears, this doesn’t seem fair. It runs against the grain of our capitalist system. Should everyone receive the same pay, even though some work longer than others?
We are accustomed to functioning in a world where rewards are given according to how long and hard we work. Yet, the parable in Matthew’s gospel tells us that our reward as Christ-followers is solely dependent on the grace of God––not on our own efforts or merits. God’s grace is equally accessible for everyone. God’s children will always receive more than we deserve because we are indebted to God for our very lives. Nobody will ever be able to pay Jesus back for His sacrifice for us on the cross. The Bible says, “for all have sinned” in Romans 3:22-24. God has put us on the same level as the latecomers who come to the faith after us, even others who do less or give less. The point is that if God didn’t give us more grace than we really deserve, we would never enter the heavenly gates.
This is one reason Jesus calls us to give ourselves unreservedly to God’s service. We are to serve others and trust God for our reward. God is certain to be more generous than we deserve or could even imagine. Jesus said: “those who are last will be first, and those who are first will be last” in v. 16. Which people are first, and which ones are last?
The first includes Israel, the Jewish religious leaders, the apostles, and the pillars of the early church. The last are Gentiles, and nowadays, all sinners who need to be redeemed, even the son who wastes his inheritance, prostitutes, drug addicts, and alcoholics. The last includes people who live most of their lives before turning to Christ and those who find Christ on their deathbed.
The essential message for us is that we all should be grateful that God has chosen to include us. Because every one of us has sinned, and we have been forgiven. Therefore, we are called to forgive and to welcome others. A brand-new Christian is just as welcome to God as the person who has known God for a long, long time. The main point is that God pours out His abundant grace and forgiveness because He wants everyone to be equally saved.
This truth is more important than fairness. God’s kingdom is not about fairness. It’s about God’s generous love and His unconditional grace which is generously available for everyone.
Almighty God, thank you for always forgiving us when we do wrong things. You love us just the same, whether we have known about you for a long time or a little while. Thank you for sharing your unconditional, generous grace upon us. And help us share it with everyone in need. In Jesus Name, we pray… Amen.