The 1980-81 Boston Celtics fielded an NBA championship team dubbed the “Dynasty Renewed.” The Celtics, with a rich history of championship excellence, acquired championship number fourteen with the help of future hall-of-famers Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert “Chief” Parish, and Nate “Tiny” Archibald. These household names are recognizable by even the casual sports fan. There was, however, one player at the end of the bench that most diehard Celtics fans would be unlikely to identify.
Wayne Kreklow played one season in the NBA. The rookie, out of Drake University, was the last man added to the Celtics’ roster by Coach Bill Fitch. His season scoring average was 1.2 points per game and he only played in 25 of the 82 regular season games. After the Celtics defeated the Houston Rockets for the NBA title that season, Kreklow was awarded an NBA championship ring for his limited contribution to the team’s success. Interestingly enough, Kreklow was not made aware of the Celtics kindness and graciousness until some 30 years later. He had no idea they gifted him an NBA championship ring.
Jesus, in Matthew 19:16-22, had encountered the rich young ruler and his interest in obtaining eternal life. After the ruler went away grieving because “he was one who owned much property” and was unwilling to give these items up, Peter brashly questioned the Lord, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?” (19:27). To combat their materialistic mindsets, Jesus countered with the principle “many who are first will be last; and the last, first” (19:30) by teaching them the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (20:1-16). From this account, Jesus illustrated that those who labored in the vineyard for a full twelve hours were to receive the same wages as those who only labored one hour. Although this did not seem fair to those who had labored in the “scorching heat of the day” (20:12), the landowner (who is a representation of God) explains that he can do what he wants with his own. If the landowner wants to be kind and gracious and gift the one-hour worker the same as the twelve-hour worker, regardless of their limited contribution to the work of the vineyard, that is his pronouncement.
In a sense, all faithful Christians are “Wayne Kreklows.” Players like Bird, McHale, and Parish no doubt received the bigger salaries, notoriety, and endorsements compared to Kreklow. They put in a greater body of work. But at the end of the day, they all received an NBA championship ring and the title of world champion. Likewise, however little labor one does in the Lord’s vineyard (His church), one will receive the final reward of heaven (2 Timothy 4:8) as long as they accept the invitation to work in the one true vineyard. We do not deserve God’s long-suffering, nor does He owe a single one of us salvation. Eternal life is not based on merit or seniority, but His grace. Therefore, we must live our lives with an attitude of “the last shall be first, and the first last” (Matthew 20:16).