In Matthew 20:1-16 Jesus tells the story of a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the labourers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. He went out again at 9 o'clock and found some more workers whom he sent to the vineyard. At noon and at 3 o'clock in the afternoon he did the same. And then again at 5 o'clock, he found more idle workers whom he sent to the vineyard.
At the end of the day he asked his manager to pay the last people first. Those that started at 5 o'clock got paid the normal daily wage. Those who started in the morning rubbed their hands with glee expecting more money. But they too got paid the same daily wage. Not surprisingly, they were angry.
What would the Trade Unions say about this if they existed at the time of Jesus? They would probably call a strike, and indeed ask for a wage increase for everyone.
On the face of it, this parable does seem a little unfair. We probably sympathise with those workers who worked all day and got paid the same as the ones who worked for just one hour. But let's consider what Jesus is teaching us here.
The vineyard is of course Paradise. Heaven.
The landowner is God. Only He decides who is to enter Heaven. You and I have no say in the matter.
We may think we know a lot about religion and Christianity but in reality we know nothing. Only God knows what is in the heart and minds of people and only He decides who is to enter Heaven.
Now about the workers who go to the vineyard at different times of the day. The different times represent when certain people get to know God and to follow His word.
Some people get to know God early in their lives. They are the first in the vineyard. They are probably born in a religious family and have been brought up as Christians and keep God's Word throughout their lives.
The others at 9 o'clock, noon and so on get to know and love God later in their lives. Perhaps in their teens, or in adulthood.
The last ones at 5 o'clock are those who get to know God at the end of their lives. Just before they die. They truly repent and ask forgiveness and as they die they go to Heaven.
Now the temptation is to live a "St Augustine" hedonistic lifestyle enjoying all that there is to enjoy in life and then, at the last minute, repent and go to Heaven.
But there is no guarantee that you will get the opportunity to repent before you die, is there? You might die suddenly and then ... bingo ... you're going down with no parachute.
And if you were to repent in the last minute, God who sees deep within your soul, will know whether you have truly and genuinely repented, or whether you are cashing in an insurance policy at the last moment so you can enter Heaven. You can't fool God, you know!
So that's what it's all about this arriving at the vineyard at different times.
And if you are one of those who arrived early, and got to know and love God as a child or when you were young, then your job here on earth is to be God's recruitment officer.
By living the kind of life He would wish you to live you'd be an example that others would admire and wish to emulate. And because of you, more people would arrive at the vineyard, later than you maybe, but they'd arrive all the same.
What an honour for you to serve the Lord in this way.
And one final thought, why be envious of God's generosity? If He chooses someone you do not think worthy to enter Heaven, should you not be glad of a late conversion and one more soul saved? Or would you want that person to be in hell?
What if, when you are in Heaven you meet someone you thought does not merit to be there? What would you do? Object?
What if someone else in Heaven does not think you are worthy to be there?