Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Matthew 20:12

In the parable of the workers in the vineyard, the owner of the vineyard pays the same wages to those who worked all day, to those who worked a half-day, and to those who worked only an hour. The complaint of the men who began work in the early morning was, "These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day."

I usually hear the parable explained with several different points. First and foremost is that God's grace is given abundantly and generously, even though we might think it's unfair. Many pastors will point out that "cradle Christians" should rejoice and not begrudge the grace given to those who come to faith late in life or on their deathbeds.

But think about the charge. What is the complaint, really? "Hey! I've been a Christian all my life, and I think I deserve something more than that guy who was a Christian for a week before he died." Okay, that betrays a lack of love. And it betrays a sense that the person thinks he's earned whatever God has to give him. But it also betrays something else that I've never heard mentioned.

What does it say about my perspective of my Christian life? Doesn't that complaint come off as though it were something I'm enduring and that there is no joy in it? I mean, think about it this way:
"Hey, I'm ticked. I've been eating fresh strawberries and alfredo seafood and cantaloupe and hotfresh cinnamon bread and blueberries and teriyaki steak all my life. And that other guy has been eating gruel and soda crackers all his life up until the last week. And now the master is going to bring both of us to his feast? That ain't fair: I deserve better than he gets." I mean, really now, how stupid is that?

Granted, the theology of the cross is real. There is suffering in the Christian life. And yet, those who have been lifelong Christians have known the sweetness of His love all along. They have come to His Supper week in and week out for decades. They have prayed to Him and heard His answers. They have soaked in the sermons full of mercy and kindness. They have again and again absorbed those dear words of forgiveness. He has sustained them through their trials, and given them temporal blessings too. And we begrudge the late-in-life convert for missing those things?

I think the complaints of the vineyard workers --and the complaints of Christians like them-- betray an idolatry of the self-centered life. If what I want more than anything is to indulge myself, to be lazy, to live for my own self, and to care nothing for my Savior, THEN I have a complaint against the master of the vineyard.

Is it really that unbearable, that intolerable, to be a Christian for your whole life?


  1. Dearest Susan,

    I am the sister of the prodigal daughter and a real life forty-three year old saved Christian (heathen prior to Peace) ...still being forgiven, still feeling the cross, still needing and clinging to the Words of salvation. What a sinner I am and what a saint I am, especially among those Christian brothers and sisters who love me.


  2. Yes, Cathy! Exactly! You're doing the same things, enjoying the same love of Jesus, as are the people who never wandered. And you want for others to come to faith too -- even when they become Christians shortly before death. And we're not "jealous" of the late-comers because they lived a hedonistic life for so many years. We're all prodigals, whether we wandered for a few weeks as babies, or several decades, or virtually all our lives.

    Y'know, until you said this, I hadn't realized that the parable of the workers in the vineyard has some pretty striking similarities to the parable of the prodigal son. The elder brother in that story was jealous of the younger son's hedonism, and wanted brownie points for denying himself that self-indulgence. Just like the guys who showed up to work at 6 am were ticked with the workers who began at 5 pm. Hmmm.

  3. Thank you Susan.