The wages paid by sin, you see, are death; but God’s free gift is the life of the age to come, in the Messiah, Jesus our Lord. [Romans 6:23 (NTE)]
In Matthew’s gospel we find Jesus telling the disciples about a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his harvest. The landowner went out again at mid-morning, lunchtime, and in mid-afternoon to hire more idle laborers to join the harvest, each time promising them the right wage. Finally, shortly before quitting time, he saw more men standing around. Since no one had hired them for the day, the landowner offered them a job and the new laborers joined the rest of the workers in the vineyard.
When quitting time arrived, the landowner gathered his workers to receive their wages. He paid the last ones hired first and, even though they’d worked only one hour, the latecomers received a full day’s wage of a denarius. When the first-hired laborers received only one denarius, they protested. Rather than complaining about the wage they received, however, the laborers really were complaining about the landowner’s generosity and benevolence toward the other workers! He’d done nothing wrong by showing extra kindness to the latecomers; in fact, the Torah valued benevolence. Reminding the men that they received the wage upon which they had agreed, the landowner pointed out that he was free the pay his laborers whatever he desired, whether deserved 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 the disgruntled men.
We might wonder why the landowner kept going out and hiring more laborers. Was it because he needed them to complete the work faster or could it have been because those unemployed laborers needed the wage? God wants everyone saved and, when we accept God’s invitation to be His followers, we will be given his grace, no matter when we accept his offer. The Christian-come-lately will get the same grace as God’s faithful long-term servants.
Since we live in a world of earning and deserving, it’s easy to think we can earn God’s grace. This parable, however, tells us that grace can’t be calculated like wages because grace can’t be earned. God’s grace is not a wage for works but an unearned gift from God. Moreover, like the landowner, God is sovereign in dispensing His grace and blessings. His mercy and unconditional love are His alone to give.