“You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.” Matthew 20:4
“Whatever is right I will give you,” is the rub of the matter. Man loves to talk about his rights, but seems unwilling to ask the question, “What is right?” In the parable from which this statement comes, Jesus is exposing the problem of the self-righteous heart. In the parable’s beginning, Jesus tells of a landowner who hires workers in the early hours of a new day. However, before these workers would agree to work, they negotiated their wages. They left nothing unsettled; there was no trust in benevolence or human kindness. They knew what they wanted for their labor, and once the landowner agreed with them, they commenced to work. It doesn’t take much theological training to see that the landowner represents Jesus, while the first hired laborers represent the self-righteous—those unwilling to trust in another. The self-righteous trust only in themselves.
Self-righteousness is a common problem for us all. From our progenitor to you and me, this plague poisons indiscriminately. It manifested itself when Adam defended his dastardly deed and blamed Eve. His words to the Lord were, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.” In other words, “It’s not my fault. It’s your fault, God. You gave me this woman who tempted me.” The argument of self-righteousness is as old as the Garden of Eden.
While conversion by the power of regeneration changes the heart of the self-righteous, it does not eliminate the problem. Even Christians must still wrestle with the temptation to trust in their perceived worthiness more than in the goodness of God. Whatever worthiness is perceived is false; it is a mirage. We are never and will never be able to say with any degree of honesty, “Look and see what I have gained from God by my goodness!” The whole lot of us, with no exception, deserve nothing from our Lord’s hand but His wrath, yet He endows us with untold blessings. Each blessing, gift, and kindness is underserved. The Lord will never be in debt to you or me. Despite our knowledge of this, we still battle the urge, if not attitude, of self-righteousness that manifests itself as deserving good and nothing less.
Like the first employees in Jesus’ parables, a believer can slide into the mentality that whatever good in life he enjoys is directly proportionate to his or her good conduct. We’ve earned comfortable stress-free living with the 3-car garage and a car in every stall. We subconsciously feel we are owed good health, behaved children, and great vacations. The motive for decent living is not a love for holiness or the desire to please God but as holding up one’s side of the “negotiated bargain.”
The other men hired later in the day agreed to no arbitrated settlement, but consented to trust the landowner. He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.” Later, an hour before sundown, the landowner returned where he had hired his day laborers and found men not working. He asks them, “Why have you been standing here idle all day?”
Their reply was, “Because no one hired us.” Such a confession meant they were in some way, inferior workers. No one wanted to take a chance on them. However, to these unworthy workers, Jesus said, “You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.”
“Whatever is right.” Can you trust the Lord for whatever is right? Are you willing to leave your health and wealth in His hands, accepting whatever He may give? Can you enter into his fields sowing and reaping His harvest, even if your fruit be small? Can you trust Him to be right then? Moreover, can you trust the Lord on that day when you stand before Him on His throne? Will you now trust that “whatever is right you will receive”?
How many of us, God’s servants, fear that hour, fearing we will not get much reward? Death is fearful because we want to do more before we stand before the Lord and death ends the possibility of more time and more fruit. If we were to die today, we fear we will have not much to show for our lives. We should be redeeming the time and not be idle. Moreover, we should desire to be as fruitful as possible. But, I think it is possible that some of us fear the judgment because we fear the Lord will do what is right. And what is right, is little reward.
But the parable suggests that what is right in the sight of God, is much more than we think we deserve unless we are self-righteous. Those whom the landowner hired last were given the same wage as those who had held out for a denarius. What was right was grace—superabundant grace. Whatever we receive in this life or the next, will always be right, and it will be far more than we deserve. What rewards we receive in heaven will be more grace-based than merit-based.
The question is singular, but one you must not dodge—do you trust Him? Do you really believe He will always be loving, even when His hand brings you affliction? Jesus Christ, our Lord, cannot do anything contrary to His benevolent nature. He is much too good to do you wrong, and He is much too wise to make a mistake with you. Do not be self-righteous and want to earn everything you receive from His gracious hand. You will always be disappointed if you work on that basis with God. “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!”