If we keep our eyes open, we can see a lot of Gospel Truth being played out in the world around us. I am fully aware but wholly unapologetic that I most commonly “see the Gospel” in sports, Seinfeld and Johnny Cash music. But where I probably see the Gospel the most is in the animal world, most specifically met 2 dogs (Chili and Quila) and 2 cats (Glozell and RaFreaka….no snarky comments please).
In our dog-world, our lab (Quila) is ridiculously jealous. When I go up to our mixed brown dog (Chili) and simply say his name, Quila will run over and literally push Chili out of the way, getting in between me and Chili so that I will pet and give her affection. It’s not that I’m not giving Quila enough affection, she wants to make sure that she gets ALL of my affection. And this also goes for me and God…
Matthew 20:8 And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ 9 And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.
This parable is really frustrating. Jesus lays out a situation that is so obviously unfair and annoying, and so relevant to how we see and treat God and others. It’s the story where men who worked 1 hour get paid the exact same as those that worked 12 hours, causing the “all day” workers to grumble and “begrudge” the Master (this word “begrudge” means to literally give the “evil eye” to the Master). Wouldn’t you? It simply isn’t fair. So what is Jesus trying to communicate? It’s not about how much we pay our workers, or get paid. He is revealing a dangerous and repulsive virus that is epidemic in our churches: Spiritual Pride.
The all day workers, the Jews in this particular case, have been the original part of God’s family for thousands of years. Jesus is coming in and saying that the Gospel is for all, without restriction and without preference. The religious mainline could possibly tolerate these “spiritual mutts” (Gentiles) into salvation, as long as they were still considered the insiders, the spiritually elite.
And we can very easily do this same thing. Those who have been around church for a long time may feel like we’ve paid our dues and deserve a higher consideration from God, at least higher than those who came in at the last minute and seemingly found the salvation loophole but living their lives centered on themselves, but coming to Jesus at the 11th hour. It doesn’t seem fair! “I gave my life to you, and they’ve given you nothing…but get the same eternal inheritance?” And as I do this, I wholly misunderstand my own righteousness and the gift of Jesus. I arrogantly think that my supposedly righteous actions somehow add to the righteousness Jesus has given me. I think that, by not doing those naughty things and doing those service projects have accumulated a better, richer inheritance. But the glorious and gracious reality is that all believers have been gifted the most excessive inheritance imaginable: the righteousness of Christ and being adopted into his family.
The Master in the parable told most of the workers what they would get paid “what is right.” What he actually said is that he would pay them “what is righteous.” That is exactly what we get from the sacrifice of Jesus: His Righteousness. He gets our rejection while we are given his acceptance…and there is more than enough love to go around. How arrogant and ridiculous it is when I look begrudgingly at God for his generosity when he has been shockingly generous with me. Instead, we are invited to see the vastness of His love for me, and then celebrate that same Love and the giver of the Love when it is poured out on others who, like me, don’t deserve it at all…and then they can celebrate the same, culminating in a full-blown festival of Thanksgiving as we celebrate the Master and his outrageous generosity…and we can participate in this festival forever…and we can call it Heaven.