This statement is the closing line of one of Jesus’ most radical, challenging parables.
Something in the landowner’s behavior might strike us as unfair. Is Jesus here praising arbitrariness? Well, not at all. He is pointing at something entirely different and, to a certain extent, unexpected.
As always, one needs to consider the context: this parable comes in the Gospel of Matthew right after the young rich man turned away from Jesus, unable to give up on his wealth. As soon as this happens, Jesus’ disciples asked him what reward they would have in heaven since, unlike the rich young man, they had already given up everything to follow him. Here, the apostles might be somehow boasting, becoming a bit complacent with themselves: “Ha! See? He was not able to give it all up, like we did!”
Sure, a very straightforward way to understand this parable would be taking it as a reminder that one’s prestige or wealth are not easily and directly translatable into heavenly rank, even if you are an apostle. In fact, it might be quite the opposite: “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you” (Matthew 21:31–32).
But an even more radical reading of it would understand this parable as a reminder of God’s grace. Grace is indeed a gift, freely given by God, and freely received by whomever wants to receive it. What Jesus is pointing at is that salvation is not a matter of “deserving.”
In the parable, laborers are not earning their money based on how long they worked. So what is the landowner paying them for? Even if invited to work at different times throughout the day, they all have one thing in common: they all accepted the invitation. It is not their work what is being rewarded: is their acceptance of the invitation in the first place. The parable is, in the end, an invitation to stop comparing oneself to others, and to simply and gratefully accept the infinite gifts of God.
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