The first will be last and the last will be first. Jesus tells the parable of a man who goes out into the morning to hire help for his fields because the harvest has come from Mathew 20. One by one they respond to the call and then later in the day the man goes out again and hires more and then again later and then a last time at the close of the day. He promises them all a denarius for their work and when time has come to settle up he begins paying those who started last with the denarius and those who began earlier assumed they would be given extra. The story doesn’t play out that way though, he gives them all the same promised amount and those who worked all day begin to complain.
I have to admit I might have too.
The response to the men complaining is interesting. The man who hired them says “why is it not fair for me to do with my possessions as I see fit? Are you envious of my generosity?” The question here is: are our hearts evil that we covet more than we are offered? Essentially the parable is asking do we begrudge others forgiveness, do we assume ourselves better than we are and do we think we are worth more?
This parable isn’t so much about rewards. The Bible does teach about various levels of rewards and even judgments. This is not about that. This is about those whose lives have compounded the most sin, are they still worthy of the same forgiveness as you or I who view our trespasses as minimal?
When talking about this I like to use the picture of Hitler. He is easily identifiable as probably the most evil person in history. But ask yourself, if he repented and confessed Jesus as Lord, would God take him? Would God still give him mercy? Would God seemingly deny justice and forgive one such as him? Would God’s own blood be enough to cover even that much sin?
The answer is yes!
The point in the acceptance and forgiveness of God is who is doing the forgiving? If God’s blood paid it all then it pays it all. It doesn’t matter if you had twenty to forty more years or unabashed rebellion and thumbing your nose at God while causing massive destruction to his creation. His blood is that powerful! His work is that miraculous! His offer is that life changing!
If someone thinks that they have spent too much time away from God, too much time racking up sin points, and too much time using depravity to darken the definitions of what a trespasses against God looks like, that they can’t be forgiven? Well they are mistaken. This is the point, before someone knows God, they only know their own sin. They do know know how great a forgiver that God is. They do not know how a great a cleanser the blood of Christ is. They do know how great a love is available to them. They do not yet know.
Our job is to tell them. The deepest darkest worst-est sinner needs to know that forgiveness is still possible. Our job is to get over ourselves and tell them. Our job is not to compare and decide who is due that amazing payment from God or not. Death is the only point of no return, until then there is always hope. Even if it looks like the sun is setting on a life of continuous malignant evil intend, one that still searches his dying bed in his hospital room looking for one more trespass he can commit before they pass on. There is yet hope while we still breathe.
This is the point of the parable. God calls us all. God welcomes us all if we would only respond to his call. If someone is overwhelmed with their track record, they can rest in knowing that God agrees with them. This is why God pays the price. God pays the price and he offers us the denarius no matter how long we worked for him. Whether we stood up and preached for sixty years or if we have spent a life-time tagging church buildings and stealing orphans’ lollipops only to enter at a death-bed conversion.
That is why there is power in the Gospel.
This is a similar notion of the prodigal’s son. The message is twofold. God welcomes all back home for those willing to take the journey, but he also recognizes the faithfully indignant who dwell close by. Don’t begrudge another’s man’s destiny. All are called all are welcomed.
Will you return? Will you allow others to return? Will you make your sin too much for Christ to forgive? Will you make others’ sin too much for your church? The comparison shouldn’t be your sin versus someone else’s, it should be your story weighed against the very maker of life. If the King of Kings can forgive, can we? If the Maker of souls can forgive can we? If the crafter of the heavens can forgive, can we?
This parable is a comparison. God to you, his good nature that wants to offer all of us the same forgiveness no matter our resumes. So, can God make the payment for you? Even the very last can still be first.