Matthewby Mike Raiter
There is a famous story of a British conference on comparative religions, where experts from around the world were discussing whether any one belief was unique to the Christian faith. Some suggested the incarnation, others the resurrection. The debate went on for some time, until C. S. Lewis wandered into the room. He asked, ″What's the fuss about?″ and on being told, confidently replied, ″Oh, that's easy. It's grace.″
In chapter 19 we met ″the first″, a rich, young ruler who was confident of his own righteousness and went away from Jesus sorrowful (vv. 16-22), and then we met ″the last″, little children of no worldly status who will inherit the kingdom of heaven (vv. 13-15). Bracketed by the saying, ″many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first″ (Matthew 19:30; 20:16), Jesus now tells a provocative parable about the grace of God (vv. 1-16).
During those times, many men would be waiting in village squares at dawn in the hope of finding work for the day. This becomes the context for Jesus' parable about a landowner who employs men at different times of the day. What is shocking in the parable is that, irrespective of how many hours the men worked, whether they were employed first or last, all received the same wage (vv. 8-10). Despite the anger of those who worked much longer hours, the master reminds them that nobody has been treated unfairly. His generosity should not be a cause of resentment, but rejoicing (vv. 13-15).
Jesus' simple point is that ultimately, all God's rewards are gifts of grace. Indeed, it is those who are most aware of their own poverty, and of how little claim they have on God's generosity, who are the most deeply appreciative of the wonder of grace.
Grace is a concept which is foreign to the human heart. That is why every other world religion has a merit-based view of salvation: do this and you will be saved or reincarnated to a better life. But to a world of sinful men and women, deserving of wrath, only a God of grace brings the hope of eternal salvation.
Do you feel any sympathy for the workers who worked all day? Can you think of examples where you might be tempted to resent the grace of God?
How would you try and explain grace to a non-Christian friend who thinks they will go to heaven because they have been a good person?