The Wages Are The SameBy Nathan Mates
It shouldn't be any surprise to hear that God's kingdom needs workers. Jesus gathered a group of disciples to learn from him, and then they would lead the Church after his ascension into heaven. Like them, we are to do the work of God's kingdom here on earth: spreading the gospel, serving others, helping the church, and all of the other fruits of the Holy Spirit. In Matthew 10:37-38, Jesus himself said "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." We're the workers, and God's got a plan for us. [What precisely that plan may be is a subject for another writing.]
Later on, in Matthew 20:1-16, the metaphor of workers in the field is used again, with a slightly different meaning. The owner (namely God) has a vineyard with work needing to be done. So early in the morning, he goes out, finds a bunch of day laborers, and offers them the standard wage: one denarius for a day's work. This was certainly fair market value for their work; a Roman Soldier also got the same wages per day. The workers accept, and get to work. So far, nothing seems out of the ordinary, and everyone can relate to this.
Problem is, there's still work left to be done, and the original workers aren't enough. So, a repeat trip out to find laborers happens at 9AM. The owner promises to pay them 'whatever is right.' (verse 3). The owner keeps going out during the day at noon, 3PM, and 5PM to find more laborers, and gets them, doing the same thing.
Finally, evening arrives, and it's time to pay everyone. The owner tells the foreman to pay people in reverse order of hiring: those hired last get paid first. The people hired at 5PM get paid one denarius. That's a day's wages for doing far less than a day's work. So, if an hour or two's work is a day's wages, those that worked the full day should be paid far more than a denarius, right? Nope, same pay for the all-day workers: one denarius.
Something seems wrong here: those who worked hard are paid the same as those that hardly worked. [And this would most likely be a Dilbert cartoon centuries later about the strange behaviors of management.] Something seems wrong here, and the hardest working workers grumbled and spoke up. The answer from the owner is as follows: "But he answered one of them, 'Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?' [Matthew 20:13-15]
So, from the other perspective, the owner gave the hardest working workers exactly what he promised them, and they agreed to be paid. Looking solely at them, they got a fair day's wages for a fair day's work. There is no problem here. Those that worked less than a day, but got paid as if they'd been working a day, that's not a problem either-- that's grace. So, we have fairness to some, and grace to others. Is there a problem here? Not with that perspective in mind.
How does this relate to our work for God's kingdom? Quite simply: the wages are the same. If you work your entire life for God after being saved at a very early age, you go to heaven. If you are saved on your deathbed, you go to heaven. The reward is the same for different amounts of work for God, but remember-- God promised the same reward for everyone.
The other part of how we can apply this is not to grumble. God's in control; he'll do what he wants-- fairness tempered with mercy. Yes, the person who was saved moments before dying didn't seem to do much for advancing God's kingdom here on earth, while others like Mother Teresa who work for decades seem to do much more. But, remember who's God, and in control, and who's human with attitude problems. We're not the ones who can judge how much work anyone else did. We can't see the effects of prayers offered up in private. We can't see many other things, we can only lean on God's word that we've got eternal life with him.
An additional point was brought up by a co-worker of mine, Ken Miller, who pointed out that the person who converted on their deathbed does go to Heaven, but they missed out on so much during this life compared to the one who was with God for much longer.