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Gospel of Matthew 20: 1-16 (NIV)
1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
3 “About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the market-place doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went.
“He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. 6 About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
7 “‘Because no-one has hired us,’ they answered.
“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’
9 “The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
13 “But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Jesus’ parable, addressed to his disciples while others listened, portrays the kingdom of heaven. If the landowner represents God, the workers represent all of us. The landowner’s generosity can offend us if we do not yet grasp the nature of God’s grace.
People enter the kingdom at different stages of their lives. Some are born into a nurturing Christian family and have a deep faith in Jesus from the days of early childhood. Some learn about Jesus in their youth and make the decision then to live their lives as his followers. Some need a wake-up call from God. They do not make a commitment to Jesus until later in life.
Then there are the “eleventh hour” people, “standing around all day long doing nothing.” There is only one hour left in the working day. These people have been outside the kingdom of heaven for almost all of their adult lives! Why would the landowner invite them into his vineyard?
The Apostle Peter has given us an insight: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3: 9).
How keen the Lord is in “not wanting anyone to perish”! How patient he is to share with people his gift of life! He will remain patient even to the eleventh hour. This is the miracle of God’s grace.