The Uneven Grace of the Kingdom

Matthew 20:1-16

In this passage we find another parable that Jesus told about the kingdom. This time he compared the kingdom of heaven to the actions of the master of a house who hired labourers for his vineyard at various points through the day. All of the workers got paid the same amount of money at the end of the day, even though they did not all work the same amount of hours.

The Kingdom of Heaven Is Not Equal – The central tension that makes this story work is the unequal and seemingly unfair way in which the different ways are treated. When those who were hired first see the master giving a whole day’s worth of wages to those who only worked for an hour, they expect to also receive a disproportionately generous amount of money, but this doesn’t happen and they are paid what was agreed in the first place. The attitude of these workers is supposed to challenge the way we think about what other receive from God. Sometimes there are those who have been forgiven more, saved later in life or been blessed with particular gifts that might seem like they have received preferential treatment. This passage shows that the way of the kingdom is not that all are treated with equality, nor that each gets as they deserve, but rather the Father pouring out his extravagant grace as he chooses.

The Kingdom of Heaven Is Not Unjust – When those who had worked for longer complained that they had not received the same generosity as the others, the master pointed out that they had received the wages that they had agreed to work for. Nobody had been given less than they deserved, and it is only comparing their own wage to the generosity that others had received that made them grumble. We should remember that God does not treat anybody in an unjust way. Everyone who has come into the kingdom has done so because of his generous grace and so we are in place to begrudge God showing his generosity to others in spectacular ways.

Possible Applications

  • Receive Grace – The workers in this passage represent different people coming into the kingdom of heaven and receiving the grace of God. It is a reminder that it is not too late. God is adding people to the kingdom all through the day, and even for those who have spent most of their life apart from him, there is the opportunity to respond to his call today and receive his incredible generous grace.
  • Don’t Begrudge Grace – The main challenge of the passage is to understand that grace doesn’t always work in an equitable way. The kingdom is based on God’s extravagant uneven generosity. When we see others receive grace we should celebrate with them, not complain that we perceive ourselves to have received a lesser blessing.