Tails of the Kingdom of Heaven: Day Labor

Here’s a post from my other blog on August 11, 2005:
This Friday we discussed a story Jesus told of some laborers who worked for a man who owned a vineyard. Although different groups of workers started at different times throughout the day (one group working for only one hour), they were all given one day’s wage for their work no matter how long they had actually worked. The story is found in Matt 20:1 – 16. For a contextual understanding of the point Jesus was making, we read the incident immediately preceding the story (Matt 19:16 – 30)Jesus book ended the story with the same proverb, “Many who are first will be last; and the last, first.” The New Living Translation of 19:30 helps us understand the point of this proverb. “But many who seem to be important now will be the least important then, and those who are considered least her will be greatest then.” In the culture and time that Jesus walked the earth, it was commonly assumed that wealthy people would be admitted to heaven because their wealth was evidence of God’s blessing. Therefore, when Jesus said that it is actually very difficult for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, it went against what their society was telling them.The point of the story is very basic. God will hand out His rewards according to His sovereignty. He does not use our standards of fairness. The workers in the story who felt they merited a larger wage than they originally agreed to because they worked longer than their coworkers. Still, it was within the landowners right to reward everyone with a full day’s pay no matter how long they worked.This story has many implications for following Jesus today. Most importantly, there is no place for classism in the Kingdom of God. The sad reality is this does slip into the Kingdom of God at times. At a recent national meeting of one denomination, one of the denomination’s leaders from Africa addressed the people gathered there. He was thankful for the ways that the U.S. branch had assisted in the spreading of the message of Jesus in Africa. Still, he was concerned that some Americans also were unintentionally exporting our ideas of success and celebrity worship. His point was that God’s value was not determined by the size of the ministry.We need to give up our notions of status and blessing. The Kingdom of God is really for the outcasts. This doesn’t automatically disqualify the “acceptable” people. Just as much as a person can take pride in his/her success, someone could also look to his or her poverty or status as an outcast as a thing of pride. In the end, God is the one who sorts out people’s motives.I sometimes wonder if the trouble we have with God’s sovereignty is that we take ourselves too seriously. It is at the heart of the complaint of the workers who worked all day in vs. 12 of the story. Ultimately the Kingdom of God is about God and His glory not us. The comforting reality is that when we start to realize this, we put ourselves in the hands of a loving and caring God who wants what’s best for us. He just likes to liberally spread that blessing around.As we closed our discussion we pondered this question: Am I seeking God only for what I can get out of it or am I concerned with his glory?

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