Have you ever felt as if God has forgotten to give you your assignment? You’ve made yourself available, but there’s no direction. You feel overlooked. You feel unused. Perhaps you conclude that you aren’t spiritual enough for God to use you.
Then you go to church and hear yet another sermon on the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). It leaves you feeling both frustrated and guilty. Yes, you want to invest what God has given you. But you don’t know how. What are you supposed to do?
If this sounds familiar, it’s because this has been a central theme for much of my life. I know how you feel. Many of those around me have specific and well defined callings. I don’t. I muddle through life without a clear purpose, just trying to listen to God and do what He says, even if nothing I do seems to be related to anything else I do.
Sometimes, I feel like a second class citizen in the Kingdom of God.
A few weeks ago, God used our missions pastor to address this issue. You know how, once in a while, a sermon hits you right between the eyes—or pierces your heart? Yeah, it was one of those. It’s probably the most significant sermon I’ve heard in the last ten years. Judging from the comments of others who heard it, I’m not alone. So today’s post is written in my words, but the ideas are not all mine. Thank you, Riaan Heyns.
First, please read Matthew 20:1-16. My Bible calls it “The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard.” If you don’t have a Bible handy, I’ve included it at the end of this post.
Got it? Let’s look deeper.
- Who does the landowner represent? Yup, God, or Jesus. (Isn’t that the right answer to any Biblical question?)
- Who do the workers represent? Us, believers. And we’re all looking to work in God’s vineyard. We want Him to use us so we can lead significant, fruitful lives. We’re eager and available.
But then what happens? The landowner comes and only hires some of the workers! What about the rest of us? But a few hours later, he comes back and hires some more. And then again, and again, until the last workers are hired at the end of the day.
There are a couple of things to note:
- The landowner agrees to pay a denarius per day to the first group (that was a standard day’s wage), but to the rest he agrees to pay them “what is right.”
- By the end of the day, everyone had been hired.
Now we come to the part where everyone gets paid. And surprise, surprise—everyone receives a denarius, regardless of how long they worked!
To our perspective, those who worked longer are justified in expecting more, since they did most of the work and “bore the heat of the day.” But Jesus condemns that attitude as sinful. He calls them evil. The New International Version calls them envious.
Why are they envious? Because they have indulged in the sin of comparison. Comparison steals our job and gratitude, and makes us dissatisfied with God. Rather, we should rejoice when God is generous to others! Perhaps I’ve been comparing myself, with my lack of obvious calling, with those around me whom God has granted a clear purpose. Hmmm…
To me, the most significant part of this parable is that the landowner doesn’t condemn those who have been waiting all day to be hired. Rather, he hires them, and pays them for the full day. It seems that he values waiting as much as working!
No mention is made of those who gave up and went home. Surely, some workers got tired of standing around the marketplace, baking in the sun, feeling useless. What were the chances that they’d be hired as the day wore on? But we can only be hired if the master finds us waiting. And those who persisted, making themselves available even when it looked hopeless, received the same reward as those who were hired at dawn.
Riaan pointed out that sometimes waiting is the harder position. We feel worthless and unappreciated. We may suffer from anxiety and depression. We struggle with doubt, with no assurance that we’re doing the right thing. Waiting is hard!
In this parable, God assures us that His work isn’t done. He will still use us; our job is to make ourselves available. As Riaan assured us, “God rewards our faithfulness in the seasons of waiting.” Our reward is already accumulating.
New King James Version
The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard
20 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4 and said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. 5 Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. 6 And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.’
8 “So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.’ 9 And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. 10 But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. 11 And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.’ 13 But he answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. 15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.”