Author: Ron Graham
Seeking or Rejecting Grace
—More parables that Jesus told
This lesson looks at two parables about the way in which we should respond to the grace and goodness of God.
The parables of the Workers in the Vineyard and the Marriage of the King’s Son illustrate theme 1 of the parables, namely the kindness and mercy of God. Workers waiting for jobs in the vineyard, and a King's invitation rejected, show us that we need to seek God’s grace and say yes to God when he seeks us.
The second parable also illustrates theme 2, the wrath of God (Matthew 22:1-14).
1 Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16)
¶“1The kingdom of Heaven is like the master of a house who went out in the early morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2After agreeing with the workers to pay one denarius each for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3And going out around the third hour, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace. 4He said, 'You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.' 5So off they went. The master went out again around the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. 6And again around the eleventh hour, he went out and found still others standing. And he said to them, 'Why do you stand here idle all day?' 7They answered him, 'Because no one has hired us.' He said to them, 'You go into the vineyard too.'” (Matthew 20:1-7).
These verses tell of the owner of a vineyard who goes out early in the morning to hire labourers. He also went out at mid morning, and again at noon. He even went out at 5pm, an hour before the workday was to end. Each time he hired labourers.
This shows one aspect of God’s kindness. He is always willing to accept people into his kingdom, whatever age they might be. He does not reject those whom he finds still outside of his kingdom late in life.
¶“8And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard instructed his foreman, 'Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.' 9And when those who'd been hired around the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10But when those first hired came, they expected to receive more; however each of them also received a denarius.” (Matthew 20:8-10).
This section shows a second aspect of God’s kindness. He rewards everyone equally and fully, even those who have not been profitable servants to him.
Those who worked only one hour did not earn the denarius (standard wage for a long day’s work), yet the landowner gave it to them, and moreover paid them first. They got the same as those who had worked five, eight, or even eleven hours that day, and those who had worked longer were made to wait at the end of the pay queue! The owner of the vineyard however paid everyone "what is right".
Those who had been unemployed most of the day must surely have appreciated the kind and compassionate treatment they received.
¶“11And on receiving one denarius, the workers who'd been hired first grumbled at the master of the house. 12'These last hired worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the whole day and the scorching heat.'” (Matthew 20:11-12).
These verses show how even though God does the right thing, some people will object.
The workers who had been employed all day were thinking only of the hard work they had done, not the plight of those who weres unable to obtain work and feed their families. This attitude was not much different to that of the second son in the parable of the lost son which we studied in an earlier lesson (Luke 15:25-30).
¶“13But the master replied to one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what is mine? Or do you begrudge my generosity?'” (Matthew 20:13-15).
Here Jesus describes the landowner’s attitude. He had given people work. He had made an agreement with some to pay them a full day’s wage for a full day’s work, and he had kept that contract. What was their problem? Only that they resented the landowner exercising his right to show whatever kindness to others he thought proper. We should never envy God’s love for others. He treats them right, and he treats us right.
¶“16So the last will be first, and the first shall be last.” (Matthew 20:16).
This verse ends the parable with the same statement that began it, "the last shall be first, and the first last". (Matthew 19:30).
I often think of this when I consider how fortunate I have been to be brought up in a Christian family. My parents, and others in earlier generations of my family, were faithful members and ministers of the church of our Lord. Is it not right for God to expect more of me than he may do of others who did not have such a good start? God came to me first and I was able to come to him very early in my life.
If God gives more honour to someone who sought and found him the hard way, after a long struggle —if he gives them first place and me last— is that not right and proper? He has shown true kindness to me, and true kindness to them. So be it.
Note:— Dual Interpretation. Whilst I have made a general application of this parable, it seems also to have a more particular application, namely God’s kindness to the Gentiles. The parable helped to prepare the Jewish believers for the ingathering of Gentiles into God’s kingdom and the removing of all distinction between Jew and Gentile (Acts 10:34-35, Galatians 3:26-29). The same may be said of the parable we consider next...
2 Marriage of the King’s Son (Matthew 22:1-14)
¶“1Jesus spoke to them again in parables. He said: 2The kingdom of Heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. 3He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused. 4Then he sent some more servants and said, 'Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner. My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and all is ready. Come to the wedding banquet!' 5But they took no notice. One went away to his field and another to his business. 6The others seized his servants, mistreated and killed them.” (Matthew 22:1-6).
These verses show the grace and goodness of God. His goodness, however, is spurned. Some simply ignore his kind invitation. Others answer the invitation with malice and violence toward those who bring it.
Similar atrocities took place in the parable of the wicked tenant farmers, recorded in the previous chapter (Matthew 21:33-46). There Jesus indicates that he is thinking in particular of the rejection of God’s grace —and of the Christ— by the Jewish religious leaders. However we find everywhere those who ignore God’s invitation, and even those who respond to it with persecution and violence against God’s servants and messengers.
¶“7 The king was furious. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burnt their city. 8 Then he said to his servants, 'The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you may find.' 10So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad along with the good. The wedding hall was filled with guests.” (Matthew 22:7-10).
This section shows the wrath and severity of God. The king in this parable represents God. The king was angry and he ordered his armies to destroy those who rejected his invitation, and to burn down their city.
This is very likely a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem which was to happen circa AD70. However it is certainly more widely applicable to the destruction of all ungodly at the end of the world (2Ths 1:6-10).
¶“11But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes. 12He asked, 'Friend, how did you enter here without wedding clothes?' The man had no answer. 13Then the king told the attendants, 'Tie him hand foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' 14 Many indeed are called; few however are chosen.” (Matthew 22:11-14).
These verses show the conditional nature of God’s grace. In this part of the parable we come across something that we might not have expected. Here we find a man who accepted the king’s invitation, yet the king treated him as one who had rejected it! How can this be?
When we look carefully at this parable, we find the king punishing those who slighted his invitation. However not all slighted or rejected his invitation in the same way. When we examine the matter, we find...
Three Ways the Invitation was Rejected
- First there were those who ignored the invitation.
- Second there were those who answered it with violence.
- Third there was one who accepted it disrespectfully
This man had not ignored the invitation, nor had he responded with violence. He had accepted the invitation and come to the feast. Yet he was cast out and punished just as severely as those who had rejected the invitation. Why?
The king noticed that the man was not dressed for the occasion. When asked why, the man had no answer. The king was insulted and made angry by this man’s disrespect for the king’s son, in whose honour the guests had assembled.
This shows us that whilst God’s invitation is extended to everyone and anyone, no one can accept it on their own terms. The invitation is conditional, and if you don't take care to meet the conditions, then you are treated as one who has rejected God’s invitation.
Jesus finished the parable with the comment, "Many are called but few are chosen" (verse 14). The invitation of God goes far and wide, but only those who accept it on God’s terms will be privileged to enter heaven.
Note:— Another Similar Parable. A parable like this is found among the three Banquet Parables of Luke 14:7-24
1. What is the main theme in these parables?
2. What is another theme in the second parable?
3. What is the first way that some rejected the king’s invitation?
4. What is the second way that some rejected the king’s invitation?
5. What is the third way in which one man rejected the king’s invitation?