The master in this parable could have avoided what the workers deemed as an injustice by simply giving the first workers their denarius and sending them on their way. Instead, he insists on paying them in reverse so that the first guys, who worked 12 hours, see that the guys who only worked one hour are getting the same amount. Is the master trying to pick a fight? No—Jesus is simply making a point: You don’t want to be in a contract relationship with God. You don’t want to receive what you deserve! Better to follow the Master and trust in his grace like the 11th hour guys did, because it will work out a whole lot better for you.
Most of us are just as foolish as the Galatians. Why would we think we could achieve spiritual life by our own strength, through obedience to the Law? If we started in the Spirit, through faith in the gospel, do we really think we will finish in the flesh, through obedience to the Law? Righteousness and spiritual life are given to all who simply believe the promise of Jesus that “it is finished,” just like he said. This is the kind of spiritual power many people are missing.
I’ve heard a number of people say things like, “I understand the need for God. But what’s the big deal about Jesus?” In the Gospel of Matthew, we see how the responses of different people surrounding the events of the crucifixion give us four pictures of how we respond to Jesus.
You have to stand a little dumbfounded by the mercy of God shown in the parable of the wicked tenants. After the tenants had killed the other messengers, he sent his son to them. Is that how you would have reacted to tenants that stole your vineyard—by sending your beloved child to try to get through to them? God’s mercy, revealed in stories like this, is staggering. The reason we think ourselves more merciful than God is we don’t perceive the depth of the evil of what we’ve done. God sent his Son, knowing full well what we would do to him. Why?
What keeps us from seeing the truth is not a lack of clarity in the evidence but the condition of our hearts. Jesus obscured truth so that only those who are pure of heart could see it. This isn’t something we easily accept. We tend to think that with the right intellectual capacity, we can discern everything we need to know—and if we don’t see something, it must be because we aren’t smart enough. But Jesus says otherwise: He reminds us that our dull minds aren’t usually the problem; our dull hearts are.
We may not know exactly what God is doing in our pain, but the cross shows us what our suffering can’t mean: It can’t mean that God has forsaken us or that he’s lost control. The cross was where God did his greatest work. That’s what he’s doing right now through your pain. It may feel to you like a dark night of the soul, but God is working in it the power of resurrection—where he entered into your pain for you, took death for you, and now stands victoriously by your side, promising you that one day you’ll stand with him in eternity.