Did you not agree with me for a denarius?» (Matthew 20: 13).
HE PARABLE OF THE WORKERS in the vineyard was told almost two thousand years ago and nevertheless, it has a vital message for today. Everything began with a question Peter asked Jesus: «We have left all and followed You. Therefore, what shall we have?’ (Matthew 19:27). The disciples probably hoped to receive some compensation for the sacrifice they had made in following the Messiah; Jesus explained that just because they had been the first, they should not expect to receive more than those who would accept Him at the end of time (perhaps your generation or mine).
Back then, there were no temporary employment agencies, nor did people send résumés to find work; owners went out to find employees to work their land during the day. That is what the vineyard owner (the protagonist of the parable) did: he went out to find employees at various times of the day. He offered the salary of one denarius to those he hired at the first hour—that is, the typical salary that was paid for a day from sunrise to sunset. No bargaining took place: the pay was fair. However, he simply offered the others «whatever is right» (see Matthew 20:4—7).
When the time came to pay the employees, the owner began with those who had arrived at the end, and he gave them one denarius; this led to have those who arrived first expect that they would receive significantly more. That did not happen, and they felt they had the right to «complain» (verse 11). From the human point of view, that was clearly an injustice, but that is precisely the problem: the human point of view is very different from the divine. God offers us salvation through His generosity, through His grace, through His limitless love; it has nothing to do with what we «deserve» (if we even deserve anything) through our merits. Thank God that it is like that, because if it is about justice, who among us would be fit to enter heaven?
Calvin commented that this parable praises the grace of God, and it is obvious that this is the case. We do not have the right to demand anything from the Lord or to envy anything from anyone for not taking into account our university degree, our years of service in His work, our economic level, or our prestige. He only considers our willingness to serve Him and our faithfulness.