In the parable of the generous master in Matt 20, Jesus tells a story about a vineyard owner who hires workers at different hours of the day to work, and he pays them all the same wage. As the story progresses, the workers hired in the morning begrudge the generous master for his generosity toward the late-comers, even though the early workers agreed to their wage. We often look to this parable as a lesson in the virtues of generosity and gratefulness. We conclude that we are to be more generous, like the master, and not be ungrateful, like the early workers; and those are valid lessons.
However, there is much more in play here, and much more for us to think through. It is actually a similar message to the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15 – in which we often focus on the forgiving merciful nature of the God. Once again, that is an important truth, but in both parables our Lord is directing His teaching at the hearts of those who are stumbled by the grace of God. So as we read these accounts, we need to be sure that we too don’t tumble headlong into the same pit as the early workers and the older brother.
In the parable of the generous master, if the wage is eternal reward, and those who worked all day are those who served God their entire life, only to get the same as those who come to faith at the end of their life, then their sense of injustice is justified. The early workers clearly received less for their efforts than those who came late. However, as the Westminster Confession rightly states, the ‘chief end of man’ is to love God and enjoy Him forever. We were created for fellowship with God. He is our reward. That being true, then the man who repents early in life and walks with God all his days and then inherits heaven, actually has a greater reward than those who have a death-bed conversion. If God is our reward then every day we walk with Him adds to our treasure.
Too often our hearts crave the things of this world for today’s enjoyment and then eternal reward as a separate blessing, as did the older brother in the story of the prodigal. He complained that his father was unfair, that his faithfulness had gone unrewarded, stating that his wayward and unfaithful younger brother earned the same benefit as he had. What the older brother failed to realize is that he had been rewarded for his faithfulness, he simply put no value on the reward. He had been granted uninterrupted fellowship with his father all those years, something that his wayward brother had forfeited during his absence. The older brother had a lust for his father’s things not a love for his father.
God Himself is our reward. Oh that I may never begrudge His grace toward the newly converted or returning wanderers, no matter how heinous their sin. First, because it is likely that my sin is as great as their’s. But even more so, because I have enjoyed the faithful love and comfort of Jesus for the last 20 years, without interruption, while the new believer and backslider have settled for the squalor of this world. Lord, You alone are my great reward, and in your love may I always be satisfied!