“Better late than never” is an idiom to which I totally relate. Jesus even spoke about it in a parable about the workers in the vineyard (Matt. 20:1-16). In this parable Jesus states that the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who hired workers throughout the day, from the early morning, to the third hour, the sixth hour, the ninth hour, and even right up until the eleventh hour. In fact, when He still found people out standing around at the eleventh hour, “He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ And they answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He then said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.'” (vs. 6-7).
At the end of the day, the landowner paid all of the workers that were hired throughout the day a denarius (a common silver Roman coin), which was a day’s wages for a common laborer. Of course, the laborers who were hired at the beginning of the day grumbled to the landowner that the laborers who were hired at the end of the day and who had only worked one hour received the same pay as they did after working in the vineyard the entire day. Here’s the exchange (vs. 9-16):
9 “The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
13 “But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Now, I can certainly understand the grumblings of the laborers who were hired at the beginning of the day–after all, it didn’t seem fair that they worked all day for the same wages as those who were hired at the end of the day. However, I doubt very much that those laborers hired at the end of the day complained at all. I believe they were incredibly grateful to receive not only work (even if only for one hour) but also the generosity of the landowner in paying them an entire day’s wages for it.
Again, let’s remember that Jesus told this parable to let us know something about the kingdom of heaven. When we put it in it’s proper context, the story takes on an entirely new meaning. While we might agree that it didn’t seem fair that the laborers hired at the beginning of the day were paid the same as the laborers hired at the end of the day, this story is not about the issue of fairness or pay. No, it is about something far greater–the generosity of the landowner, and in this case, the Landowner of the kingdom of heaven–God.
I don’t know about you, but I find this parable incredibly encouraging to me personally, and, hopefully, to you, too. As I’ve mentioned previously, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord when I was only ten years old. That’s almost 50 years ago. And I have spent the majority of my life stumbling through it with more prodigal years than I care to count. While I always knew in my heart that Jesus was taking care of me all those years, and some of those years were more dedicated to following after Him then others, for the most part I look back on a whole lot of those years and wonder just what the heck I was doing with my life. It’s not that I didn’t try to follow Him as best I knew how, but the influences of our postmodern culture tangled me up at almost every turn.
I still believe during all of those years I was a follower of Jesus Christ, but the adversary knew me all too well and I let him take great advantage of me in the areas of my greatest weaknesses. And, I felt that for every step I took forward in my faith walk, I ended up taking two steps back. It just seemed like I never got ahead–that I was always stumbling over something. I’d compare myself to more “dedicated” Christians I was around who seemed to do far better at “following Jesus.” They even got “the desires of their heart” (Psalm 37:4), but mine went unfulfilled.
My career in higher education was lackluster, to say the least. The only real joy I ever got from it was the help I was able to give all of the adult students I worked with all of those years. I hated the politics, the backbiting, the game-playing involved in trying to get ahead. I still believed that honesty and ethics mattered–that integrity wasn’t just an antiquated word in the dictionary. I believed in doing the best I could each and every day for any of the employers I worked for–and doing it without complaining. I kept my nose clean and stayed away from all the games as much as possible. The pay was not great, but it kept a roof over my head and my bills paid.
A previous post titled “Don’t Lose Your Soul At The Crossroads” details this account. Suffice it to say at this point (early 2007) I got caught up in a major fringe element in Christianity (the Prosperity Gospel) for a short time–two years–which extended into my time in Houston. That, combined with the 14-year friendship that had displaced God at the center of my life–detailed in the post titled “Zero Tolerance“–set in motion a downhill fall that was devastating to say the least–but it also saved my life.
While my world on the outside fell apart (by losing my job in Houston followed by almost three years now of unemployment), the Landowner of the kingdom of heaven stepped in to rescue me at the eleventh hour. He pulled me out of the mess I had made of my life and gave me a second chance, and I’m living that second chance now.
To the rest of the world my life on the outside may not look a lot different from when I lost my job in April 2009 because I am still unemployed as of this writing; however, what the “Landowner” of my life has done internally to change me cannot even be expressed in words. Let me just say that I do believe in miracles.
Who knows why some people, when they accept Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord, take off like a rocket and stay on track while others, like me, stumble through decades trying to figure it all out. As Aslan said to Shasta in “The Chronicles of Narnia” (Book 3–“The Horse and His Boy”), by C.S. Lewis, “Child, I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own.” All I can tell you is that I’m incredibly grateful to the Landowner, who accepts laborers into the field at any time, even at the eleventh hour.
There’s work to be done. As Jesus told his disciples in Matt. 9:37-38: “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
Want to come join me in the harvest? You don’t need a perfect life or a perfect walk or any credentials. You just need a willing heart, and to follow His lead.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” –Jesus (Matt. 11:28-30)
Yes, let’s follow His lead.
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