Anyone who has spent much time around children and young people will have, at some point, heard the phrase, “It’s so unfair!” uttered with varying levels of anguish. In truth, even as adults, we have a keen sense of fairness. By any human measure, the employment practices that Jesus outlines in this parable are deeply unfair. In fact, a business owner could not expect to run a successful business for long if they went about it like this.
How glad we should be that God does not follow human standards of ‘fairness’. If he did, we would all come under judgement and punishment for our sins. Instead, he is both righteous and merciful, sacrificing his own son to take the punishment due to us so that we could enjoy eternal life. And Jesus never complained that it was “so unfair”!
Why did Jesus tell this parable? It was a response to Peter’s question: “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” Jesus’ response showed that the gift of eternal life is available for all who come to him, whether they answer the first call, or the last possible call. Those who have followed Jesus longer will not get upgraded to some better version of eternal salvation. The kingdom of God is ready to receive those who accepted Jesus in their youth, as well as those who accepted him with their last breath.
The rewards that God gives to us are not about what we justly deserve; they are about mercy. If we were to get what we justly deserve, we would pay the price for our sin. Instead, God promises us blessings and eternal life. It would be mean-spirited of us to try to claim a better portion of a blessing we don’t really deserve in the first place. We may be surprised when we see who Jesus honours in the kingdom. Let us serve him, then, not in hope of a better reward, but in grateful humility and out of hearts filled with love for the God who has made our salvation a reality.