“And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour they each received a denarius.
“But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more, and they likewise received each a denarius. And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, 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.’
“But he answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you.
“‘Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?'”
— Matthew 20:10-15
Yesterday, we talked about the way God calls different people at different times to come to His “vineyard”, and the “wages” for doing so are the same, no matter when He calls them.
Part of that parable reminds us that it’s never too late to come to the Lord, but the other side of the coin (pardon me) is a reminder that you’re going to run into a little bit of bitterness … from the very people who might have been praying for you up to that point.
It’s human nature: you work hard at something, spend a long time doing it, and you expect that your work will be recognized as having more value than that of someone who started later. That’s especially true if that person started later and you all finished at the same time.
But that’s the world’s economy — this human-made concept called “fairness”. It’s not how God’s economy works. God is not a man, that He would show favoritism towards one person over another, and as we’ve seen many times before, the reward of the Kingdom has nothing to do with how much you’ve worked — so that no one can boast.
If we kvetch and say, “That’s not fair!”, we’re judging God, and that’s a Really Bad Idea.
But you often see it when someone comes to Christ. People who were “already there” expect that the years they spent serving the Lord make them more worthy of the salary than the newcomers. They might look at the newcomer’s past, and rather than rejoice over the fact that someone new is being welcomed into the Kingdom, start poking holes in their conversion, questioning whether it was real. Envy starts to take hold.
But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic.
For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.
— James 3:14-16 (emphasis added)
For those of us watching new people arrive in the Kingdom, we need to be rejoicing — not fretting that suddenly they’re going to get the same thing that we’ve been striving for, for years. And for the newcomers, it’s worth knowing that there will be this kind of reaction from long-time followers of Christ. Don’t respond: just go about living; because fuelling that fire is perpetuating the envy and confusion, and playing into the devil’s hands.
We have to remember that this is God’s ballpark, it’s His game and it’s His rules. He tells us what the reward is, and (get this) calls us when He’s ready to call us.
That’s something important to keep in mind: Jesus’ parable is about a vineyard owner going out and finding the laborers at certain hours of the day. In the same way, isn’t God going out and finding us at certain times? Some people were called at the beginning of the workday — others, not until near the end. So questioning whether some people are truly converted when they come to Him is the same as questioning God’s actions — and that attitude has a rather high failure rate.
So if you’re new to faith, know that, yes, there will be people who question your position and may even resent your newfound joy. Don’t sweat it: Jesus told us this would happen. Just keep loving them and living your new way and don’t waste your energy defending yourself.
To be fair, Jesus’ parable tells us that the people who’d worked all day didn’t actually begrudge the late-comers that denarius: they thought they should get paid more. When God calls us, we answer because we want to be part of the Kingdom of Heaven. Others answer His call because they, too, want to be part of the Kingdom of Heaven.
It’s all the same reward: we each get a denarius.
How can anyone ask for more than that?