The Parable of the Vineyard

Matthew 20:1-16 – Spiritual Envy

Asbury Free Methodist

September 20,2020

               We have been looking at the stories of Jesus. This morning we are considering the parable of the workers in the vineyard. I don’t know that I have ever heard a sermon on what I am going to talk about today – but if I had it would have been helpful. It would have saved me some grief. This story of Jesus is going to help us look at spiritual envy.  But to get to the parable I have to take you back to the previous chapter and tell you the story found in Matthew 19.

               There was this rich fairly young guy, who came to Jesus. He was interested in spiritual things. He says to Jesus, “what do I need to do to get eternal life?”  Long story short, Jesus tells him to sell his possessions and give to the poor. (Which by the way was not a universal command of Jesus but one for this young guy) The rich guy walks away sad, because he didn’t want to part with his money.

               Jesus said, it is really hard for rich people to make it into the kingdom of God. The disciples were surprised at this, because they believed that rich people were favoured by God. Jesus basically says, God has to perform a real miracle to get rich people into heaven. You might remember the verse. “With man this is impossible, with God all things are possible.”

               Peter says, well Jesus – we left everything to follow you. We left our fishing boats and our jobs. What are we going to get?

Matthew 19:28–30 (NIV)

28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

               Jesus says, you are my disciples, and in the world to come you are going to have a place of authority. Then he says, anyone who sacrifices for me is going to receive far more than they gave up. Not only that but you will inherit eternal life. God is going to compensate you amazingly well for believing in me and following me.

               Then Jesus says, “But.”

Matthew 19:30 (NIV)

30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

               When Jesus says, “but” you know there is a curveball coming. Things are not going to be as you would expect them to be. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

               Then he goes on to tell the story that we are focusing on today. Remember that while the words of scripture are inspired by God. The chapters and verses are not. They are really helpful, but I read somewhere where they were put in by a guy who did some of his best work while riding a horse. In this case, he splits up the story by starting a new chapter.

               So Jesus says Matthew 19:30 (NIV)

30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first. Then he goes on to tell the story about the workers in the vineyard. At the end of the story Jesus says,

Matthew 20:16 (NIV)

16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

               So, you know Peter’s question – what are we going to get? – and this story are connected. Jesus starts the story by saying “for the kingdom of heaven is like.” Here is how the kingdom of God really works.

Matthew 20:1–2 (NIV)

 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

               You heard the story. He hires the first group early in the morning and the next group at nine in the morning and then next group at noon and then the next group at three in the afternoon.

Matthew 20:8 (NIV)

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

               Did you catch the clue in those verses? The last one hired were paid first. The last were first. The ones who were hired first were paid last. But not only were they paid last, they were paid the same amount as the ones who only worked a couple of hours, although they had worked all day.

               They grumbled and I probably would have too. It is not fair that we worked hard all day and they only worked for a couple of hours and they get the same as us. The master of the vineyard said,

Matthew 20:13–16 (NIV)

…‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’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.”

               The question the master askes, “Are you envious because I am generous?” – is a question that we need to ask ourselves from time to time, Are you envious because I am so generous? I have to tell you that sometimes I have needed to repent because the answer has been yes. … But we will get there.


               The NIV translates verse 13 as “I am not being unfair to you.” That is probably not the best translation of that. It would be more accurately rendered, I did no wrong to you, or I did not treat you unjustly. He is right, he paid the people what they agreed. He treated them justly. He did them no wrong. But I would argue that they weren’t treated fairly.

               And that is the problem. God is always just – but life isn’t always fair. God will give you more than you deserve if you believe in him and follow him – but sometimes we feel like we get the short end of the stick; especially when we compare ourselves to other people.


               Let me give you the big picture, and then the smaller picture of what is going on in the story.

               The big picture interpretation is this. Some of us have served God all our lives. Some of us came to the Lord as young adults. Some of entered the Kingdom of God in our thirties and forties. Some of us came to know the Lord very late in life. And yet our inheritance is the kingdom of heaven. When your life is over, whether you came to know Jesus as a child and have served him ever since or whether you came to know him in the twilight years of your life – we will all walk into the same heaven. We will all get to be by the throne of God. In a sense, we will all receive the same reward.

               Some might see that as unfair. It doesn’t bother me any because I believe that Jesus has made my life better and not worse. I came to Jesus when I was a kid, and God has been very gracious to me.

               But there are other places in the world where it is very difficult to be a follower of Jesus. Talking with my friends in other parts of the world, following Jesus caused a lot of difficulty for them. It cost some of them jobs, and advancement and some have been imprisoned for following Jesus.

               Even in Canada back when this church was built, it was hard being a Christian. I read where one of the Methodists connected with this church were imprisoned for disturbing the peace because he said “Amen” out loud at a church service. Being a Methodist pastor a hundred years ago was hard. Often, they travelled great distances on foot through all kinds of weather. They were often harassed by folks as they travelled.

               Some of them died young because of the hardship. I can imagine them having issues with the unfairness of an equal reward for unequal service. If you are a follower of Jesus, we all get to go to heaven whether it was hard to live out the gospel where you were, or whether it was easy. Whether you came to know the Lord and you lived for him all your life or whether you came to him in the twilight years of your life. – We all get rewarded with heaven.


               If I could leave the interpretation of the parable there, it wouldn’t disturb me. I don’t really have spiritual envy over people who came to the Lord later in life, because I have witnessed the scars that sin leaves. So, at least for me, I don’t experience spiritual envy there.  But, I can’t just leave it there. This parable is not just about how God treats us in the life to come, it also speaks about how God treats us in this life.


               Let me illustrate it with another scripture. You may remember that after the resurrection and after Peter had denied Jesus three times, Jesus reinstates Peter by asking Simon Peter if he loves him. Peter affirms his love for Jesus – Now catch what Jesus says to Peter as he reinstates Peter –

John 21:18–22 (NIV)

18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

20 Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) 21 When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”

22 Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”

               Peter, when you get older, you are going to be lead where you don’t want to go, and be bound, and have to do things you don’t want to do. What I require of you is that you follow me.

               So, Peter takes a look at John and says, “Lord what about him?” Jesus basically says,” maybe he will live until I return – that doesn’t matter to you. Your call is to follow me.” Basically, you may get unequal, some might say unfair treatment for following me. That doesn’t matter – you must follow me.

               And that takes us back to our parable. God treats us all justly. But sometimes people get it easy, and sometimes people have to work through the heat of day – and Jesus says, what is that to you – you must follow me.


I have two cars and motor cycle – meanwhile the District Superintendent of the Free Methodist Church in Cuba – has to travel by public transit because he doesn’t have a car.- because cars are really expensive in Cuba. But that is not fair. Doing ministry in Cuba is so much harder than here. That is not fair, but Jesus would say to the people of Cuba – what is that to you, you must follow me.


Some of you have easy lives, some of you have hard lives. Some of you have wonderful families, some of you have challenging families. Some of you have a comfortable amount of money and some of you have barely enough money.  Some of you are very healthy and some of you are not so healthy.

               If you are on the deficit side of those equations – Jesus question about the workers is still the right question. “Are you envious because I am generous – with other people?

               There is a saying in our culture – the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. There will come a time where you will look around and say, life is so unfair. Everybody seems to have it better than I do. And if you are a follow are Jesus – you say, Jesus what is wrong? Why do you bless that person and not me? Why did you heal that person and not me? Why did you give that person so much and not me? I have worked as hard or harder, and just as long or longer – but you haven’t treated us as I would expected. If you are going to be so generous to him, you should be generous to me.

               And Jesus asks you, are you envious because I am generous – with other people? And sometimes I think I am. Spiritual envy! I envy the people who God is blessing. And people, this can seriously distort your faith.

               But envy is an easy trap for many of us. If you are in a bad marriage, it is easy to envy someone in a good marriage. It is easy to envy people’s spiritual gifts, or their skills, or their ability to make money, or their good looks, or their talents, or even how lucky some people seem to be.

               Let me take you to one more scripture verse.

James 3:16 (NIV)

16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

               Did you catch that. When you  buy into the envy because of the perceived unfairness – there you will find disorder and every evil practice.

               Our envy leads to a spirit of entitlement. As we start to give into the envy, and we believe the entitlement —-evil practice has a way of following. Affairs or pornography often follow envy. Cheating and stealing often follow envy. Backbiting and slander often follow envy. Arguing and broken relationships often follow envy.

               Resentment builds in our hearts. We think the worst of the person we envy, not the best. We don’t love those whom we envy. And worse than any of that we start to question the goodness and the justness of God.

James 3:16 (NIV)

16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

               Back to our story. Peter says we have left everything to follow you – what do we get. Jesus says, you are going to reign with me, and you are going to receive a hundred times more than you have given up. But you are going to find the economics of the kingdom weird.

               The last are first and first are last. I will not treat you unjustly, I will do you no wrong. I will give you far more than you have given up. But if you look around at how I treat other and you compare yourself with them, you may feel like I am treating you unfairly. In fact, if you look in your heart you may be envious of others, even though I have been just with you.

               If you let your heart go there, you will set yourself up for failure. Like Peter, your job is not to ask what about John, your job is – as Jesus says,  to follow me.

               I think Jesus told us this story because he knew that there would be people how saw how life worked out and would say – that is not fair. They would either envy God’s generosity with others or curse God for his lack of generosity towards them. And he knew that kind of attitude would be devastating to their soul.

He has promised to repay you 100-fold. In the meantime, you are called to follow him.


               I know there have been times in my life where I have envied other peoples lives. I get focused on my own struggles and own pain, and all I can see is that other people have what I don’t have. When envy takes root, it has a way of distorting one’s soul. I have had to repent.


               I wonder as I am speaking today, if you see yourself in the story. I am wondering if you feel like you are being treated unfairly by God. I wonder if you see envy in yourself. If you do, and you are unwilling to do something about it, then you are setting yourself up for a fall. For when envy takes root, every kind of wickedness is likely to follow.

Jesus would say, trust me. Repent of your envy and follow me – from where you are. It may not seem fair, but I will do you no wrong. More than that, I promise that whatever you give up for my name, I will give you a 100 times more. Follow me trust me.

Directed Prayer.