In a Grace economy, what men think of as trash, God treasures.
One parable illustrates this truth so well. Jesus’ disciples had been squabbling about who would be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, so He told his disciples a story.
Instead of “once upon a time,” it begins, “For the kingdom of heaven is like…”
A landowner hired some men early in the morning to work in his field all day for a denarius (a day’s wage for laborers). He went again to the marketplace at about 9:00 a.m. and found more workers. They also agreed to come work for a denarius. Same thing at noon and 3:00 p.m.
At about 5:00 in the evening, he made a final trip to find another group standing around. “Are you just going to do nothing all day long? Why aren’t you working?” (Matthew 20, Lyneta’s paraphrased version)
“Because no one hired us.” (Matthew 20:7, NIV)
When I read that, I can only think, “Well, duh. Obviously they didn’t hire you, but why?”
Were they lazy? Did the other landowners know them to be dishonest, or disagreeable? Had they reputations for being troublemakers?
I can make a dozen guesses, but we can’t know based on details left out of the parable. And maybe that’s the point. The landowner didn’t choose them because of their hire-ability. (Maybe he didn’t even check their LinkedIn page—how crazy is that?)
The landowner’s only criteria was their willingness. And sure, they were willing. Wouldn’t you take a day’s pay for working only an hour?
At 6:00 p.m., it was time to collect their pay. The first group watched as the foreman dropped a denarius into the hands of each late-comer. What they must have been thinking! If they get a denarius, then surely we’ll get a lot more for being out here all day.
But as each group drew their pay, those early hires must have shifted their feet and glanced at each other with brows raised. The 3:00 group and the noon group didn’t get any more than a denarius. Same with the 9:00 group!
The other groups must have walked away, clenching the silver coin and shaking their heads. By the time it was the first group’s turn, their gratitude for a day’s pay turned to ire.
“What do you mean by paying us the same as the other groups? We’ve worked the hardest! The longest! We broke our backs for you out here in the hot sun and all we get is the same as those who showed up when it was almost done?”
Maybe they didn’t add it aloud, but thought, “Those loafers! What losers!”
It’s in the landowners’ response that we finally see Jesus’ point: “I gave you what I promised. It’s my money, so don’t I have the right to bless others as I see fit?”
This is good news for those of us who felt like eleventh-hour workers too many times. We’ve been marginalized because of circumstances beyond our control. Or worse yet, we’ve made choices that caused us and others we care about to face terrible consequences.
Whether we’re divorced, former addicts, chronic disease sufferers, abuse victims, or any number of other negative circumstances, we have a tendency to place ourselves in the “picked last” category. But when Jesus comes along, He says, “Follow me—you are worth just as much as all the others who’ve been with Me all along.”
Jesus’ Grace turns our worth economy upside down. The marginalized are the chosen. The strung-out healed, broken mended, and the stuck are rescued. The last become first.
The kingdom of heaven isn’t fair by man’s standards. It couldn’t be if we’re to be the recipients of God’s love, lavished on His most prized creation. He knows our value. The question is, do we?