In verses 1-16 of Matthew 20, Jesus tells the parable of the workers in a vineyard. To quickly boil it down, this parable teaches us that everyone will have the same reward for following Christ, regardless of when or how we come to follow Him.
Some of the workers that began working in the vineyard early in the morning were upset that others that had been working much less time received the same wage that they did. To this, Jesus replied: “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’ So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.” Matthew 20:13-16
We see this phrase, “the last will be first, and the first last” spoken many times by Jesus in the gospels. I usually associate this phrase with how we view ourselves. That is, if I think of myself as first among others, I will behave selfishly and not love my fellow man, and will therefore be last in the eyes of God. But if I think of myself as last, I will put others’ needs before mine and will serve and love others as God would have me do.
But in this passage, it seems to take on a slightly different meaning. In this passage, the last were those workers that were chosen to work in the field last and they ended up being first because they received the same reward as those that had worked all day. And the first workers chosen were ridiculed because they questioned how the master chose to reward. So, ultimately, the lesson of this parable is threefold:
1. Be grateful for your reward
2. Do not envy the rewards of others
3. Do not presume to second-guess the gift-giver
These lessons apply in many different ways. They can be readily applied for children. They can apply to adults with jobs, accomplishments, material things, etc. And they can ultimately apply for our spiritual reward in heaven. This parable tells us that God accepts each of us when we come to Him, no matter what our physical, mental or spiritual state is at the time. If we are sincere and obey His will, God will accept us. What a comfort that is.
Let us not forget the phrase: “For many are called, but few chosen.” While many people hear of and know of Christ, not everyone believes and follows Him. Pledge to do your part to lead others to Jesus and make sure that you also remain faithful until death!