Studying Acts (part 8)
In Matthew 20:1-16 we read the parable of the labourers in the vineyard. At the time when Jesus told this parable it was Jews who were like the labourers who worked all day and the Gentiles were like the late comers who got paid the same though they had only worked an hour. When we look at the parable like this we understand why the Jews were so upset with the Gentiles. It seemed unfair to them that the Gentiles were treated the same as themselves. The Jews felt they had done all the work – kept the commandments, preserved the Mosaic covenant, maintained temple worship. They felt they had borne the ‘heat of the day’. But later Paul would write: “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). In Acts when we read about the Jews’ reluctance to accept Gentiles, unless they became Jews, we need to realize that they felt like these labourers who had worked all day but received the same pay as those who worked for only an hour.
The parable also has an ongoing meaning. Long term Christians are in danger of thinking like the Jews – having an attitude of entitlement. The parable highlights this common misconception – none of us deserve God’s blessings, none of us could ever do enough work to earn salvation. For all of us salvation is a gift we could never earn. Our response ought to be one of gratitude, regardless of how long we have been serving God and ‘working in the vineyard’.