For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ. [Romans 5:17 (NLT)]
Jesus told his disciples about a landowner who went out in the morning to hire workers for his harvest. He offered them one denarius, a good and fair wage for a day’s labor. Mid-morning, the landowner saw people doing nothing and so he hired them to join his other workers, again promising a fair day’s wage. At lunchtime and again in mid-afternoon, the landowner went out and found more idle laborers and hired them to join the harvest, again promising a good wage. Finally, shortly before quitting time, he saw more men standing around. When asked why they weren’t working, they replied that no one was hiring. Since this was harvest time, there would have been plenty of jobs available and these workers probably hadn’t been all that eager to find any work that day. Nevertheless, the landowner offered them a job in his vineyard, again promising a fair day’s wage, and the new laborers joined the rest of the workers in the fields.
When quitting time arrived, the landowner gathered his workers and paid the last men hired first. To the astonishment of those who had worked longer, these latecomers received a denarius—the reward for a full day’s work. When the first-hired laborers were also paid only one denarius, they protested. Apparently, they felt they deserved more. The landowner said he had acted fairly. The original workers had received the exact payment upon which they had agreed: one denarius. The landowner pointed out that he was free the pay his laborers whatever he desired, whether they deserved it or not. “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?” he asked.
When we accept God’s invitation to be His followers, we will be given his grace, no matter when we accept his offer. To those who come to Christ early, it seems unfair that they don’t get something extra. Shouldn’t there be a greater reward for those who believed first, those who served longer? Shouldn’t they get marble flooring, granite counter tops or a home theatre system in their heavenly abode? Should the Christian-come-lately get the same reward as God’s faithful long-term servants? God’s mercy and his unconditional love, however, are His alone to give. In this parable, Jesus is assuring us that both old and new believers are guaranteed God’s saving grace. Grace can’t be calculated like wages because grace is completely unearned. None of us deserve salvation and eternal life; we are all sinners. The wage we deserve is death; the gift we receive from God is life.
The difference between mercy and grace? Mercy gave the prodigal son a second chance. Grace gave him a feast. [Max Lucado]