Bible Reading Blog

Bible Reading Blog

“Who is the Greatest?”

Categories: Congregational Bible Reading


“Who is the greatest?” Jesus's disciples asked (Matthew 18.1). I can almost feel the tension building as the disciples jockeyed for status (Matthew 20.24). As Jesus' influence grew, his disciples were trying to position themselves for the coming kingdom. Even the mother of James and John tried to manipulate the process by asking for her sons to have positions of distinction (Matthew 20.20-21). But Jesus’ kingdom was not like that, and he clarified this with a parable.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard(Matthew 20.1). He hired some in the morning for a specified wage, and throughout the day he brought on more workers with promise of payment. At the end of the day, everyone received the same payment. The early morning workers thought this to be unfair, but the master reminded them, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” (Matthew 20.15). 

Just prior to this, Jesus told Peter, “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.” Jesus’ disciples had invested a lot in his movement (Matthew 19.27) because they believed in Jesus and trusted his ability to fulfil his promises. Jesus’ point to Peter is that everyone is called into his kingdom with the promise of a reward.

But there is a critical point we must understand: The reward is not contingent on how much or how long the laborer worked. In fact, the rewards were not contingent upon anything except their willingness to work. Notice there are no details given about what each laborer did. Jesus highlights only the fact that they labor in the vineyard because the master called them to work. I think this parable teaches us two important lessons:

  1. There are some who will work their whole lives in service to the Lord; others take years to hear the call of the gospel. But whether the master calls us early or late in life is irrelevant. What matters is that he calls us because there is a need (Matthew 9.37-38), and we will be rewarded for the labor we perform. Are you doing the work Jesus has called you to do?  
  2. In Jesus’ kingdom there is no position granted based on talent or potential. Some people have 5 talents, others 1 talent (Matthew 25.14-30); but the reward is not offered based on relative performance or results. Those who receive the reward are those who use their talents to do what the master calls them to do. Are you doing the best with what you’ve been given?

Jesus concluded this section by answering the disciple’s question. “…whoever would be great among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve…” (Matthew 20.27-28). If Jesus “did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped” (Philippians 2.6) who are we to rank ourselves with one another? We must evaluate our talents only so we can use them in humble service to others, like King Jesus.