Is God an unfair landowner as portrayed in the parable Jesus told in Matthew 20? Labourers, who came later, received the same wage as those who had laboured all day. When a long-working labourer protested, the landowner replied, “I have done you no wrong. You have received what you agreed to.” From an earthly point of view that seems unfair. Surely the ones who had worked hardest and longest should have received more than the late-comers?
God’s economy is not man’s economy. Primarily the word economy signifies the household management and administration. God rules in a timeless zone, according to His divine purpose, plan and wisdom, preparing His household.
Jesus was not talking in worldly economic terms, where money, materialism and self-centred motivations rule the day. A human economy promotes competition, envy and greed, as seen in the parable.
In God’s economy, grace and mercy know no bounds. Man’s ideas of merit and earned rewards are irrelevant.
While the parable talks about physical wages, we need to consider the much more weighty wages, as mentioned in the Bible.
‘The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord’, Romans 6:23. This speaks of two inexorable absolutes. The first is that spiritual death is the inevitable paycheck for every man who chooses to remain a slave to sin.
Secondly, eternal life is the free gift God gives undeserving, but repentant sinners who believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died for our sins. This is a gift you can’t earn, but simply believe in what the Word of God says. The later workers gratefully received what the landowner gave them as they hadn’t worked the full day for it. Many will slip into heaven with their last breath on earth.
Late Comers and Unfair Landowner
There is no unfair landowner, as the early labourers received what they had been promised. The workers who came in the 3rd, 6th, 9th, and 11th hour didn’t even stop to ask what their wage would be. They were simply glad to get the work.
Spiritual late comers will receive the same wage of eternal life as those who have believed in Christ for many years. The thief on the Cross didn’t say a sinner’s prayer or do any great works. He simply believed and asked Jesus to remember him when He came into His kingdom. Jesus replied, “Today you will be with me in Paradise”, Luke 23:43. The only way to the Father’s presence is through belief in the Son, John 14:6, for faith is the only thing that pleases God, Hebrews 11:6.
Those who came last were given their wages first from the steward. Again, this has the appearance of being an unfair landowner, but who are we to judge the Creator in when, or whom, He chooses to bless.
One person can be miraculously healed while another remains sick. One person appears to succeed while another fails. God has plans and purposes that we know nothing about.
When the early workers saw what the later ones received, they were angry with the landowner. One of them had the courage to speak up, “We bore the burden and heat of the day, and these late comers got the same as us!”
That would seem like an unfair landowner in our economic system, but comparisons are odious. What others have or do, has nothing to do with us. God is the landowner, and He has the divine right to do what He will with whom He will.
God is just and merciful, holy and righteous. Because of whom He is, He cannot be unfair. He sees the end from the beginning, Isaiah 46:10, and knows all things, while we only see a tiny sliver of the picture.
The Last Shall be First
Jesus then added the statement that the last shall be first and the first last, Matthew 20:16. This is the same statement He used in answering a similar attitude in Peter, Matthew 19:30. Peter was like the long-working labourers, in that he asked Jesus what would the disciples get as they had forsaken all. Again, it is questioning the rights of the Divine Landowner.
Israelites were always God’s chosen people to carry His name to the world. This was rooted in the covenant God forged with Abraham. Even a casual read of the Bible reveals that the Israelites failed God again and again. They were first, but they will be last.
There will be four distinct companies of people in the New Jerusalem, when Christ sets up His millennial reign on earth. There will be all the Old Testament saints. Then there will be the Bride of Christ, or New Testament believers, who are birthed in the New Covenant between God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son.
After the Bride has been caught away, there will come the Great Tribulation, the outpouring of God’s wrath on a corrupt world. Multitudes from every tribe, tongue and nation will finally accept Jesus as their Saviour, Revelation 7:9. Many of them will give their lives for their belief.
The Tribulation period is all about cleansing Israel and bringing the nation to a place where they too accept Jesus Christ as their long-awaited Messiah. The nation that was first, was birthed in the wilderness way back in Exodus. They shall be last to take their God-appointed place in God’s economy, in the 1000-year reign of Christ.
Many are Called Few Chosen
Jesus ends the parable with a statement, “Many are called but few are chosen,” Matthew 20:16. The original manuscripts placed this statement in chapter 22:14, rather than in chapter 20.
Many hear the Gospel message but only the few respond. There were around 175 million people alive in Noah’s day. They were given 120-years to repent. Only eight souls accepted God’s free gift of salvation. If Christ returned tonight, what percentage out of 8 billion people would go with Him?
Those who don’t accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour go to the place called Hell, or Hades, the waiting place for those who have rejected Him. At the end of the 1000-year reign of Christ on earth, they are resurrected unto judgement, John 5:29; Revelation 20:5.
No matter what we have done we are all eligible for eternal life with Him. All are given the opportunity to accept so great a salvation, yet many, in their sinful stubbornness, refuse.
We Were Bought with a Price
Our wage is that we were bought with a price and we are not our own, 1 Corinthians 6:20. That price was the blood shed by the sinless Lamb of God, a price that cannot be valued.
He has the right to do with us as He sees fit. We are all sinners and deserving of eternal separation from God, yet we are hid in Christ and made fellow-heirs with Christ, Romans 8:17. Whether we work from early in the morning, or arrive only in the evening of our life, God grants us eternal life, forever in His presence.
Rewards are Not Wages
Rewards are not wages, for the wages are eternal life or eternal death. Whosoever believes on the Son of God shall have eternal life, John 3:16. There are no ifs, or buts, or conditions to that.
Rewards are a different subject all together and only our Lord will know the rewards His servants will receive, Matthew 16:27. For now, our eyes need to be set on so great a salvation, Hebrews 2:4, the free gift from God. Our work is to strive to mature into the fulness of the stature of Jesus Christ, Ephesians 4:13. We can do this with the help of the Holy Spirit.