The parable of the laborers who worked for different amounts of time all receiving a full day's pay (Matthew 20: 1-16), is really challenging. It seems to go against our sense of fairness. We all tend to think that the amount of pay should somehow correlate to the work performed. But the Lord seems to indicate that God will reward us in a different way. The ones who have been laboring for many years, trying to do what is right, should not expect any more than those who have come to know and follow the Lord very late in the game. Is this fair?
I believe that the Lord is trying to make us see that the question itself is flawed. We should not be asking "Is this fair?". Instead, we have to remember that, as any loving parent, God is not going to love us based on what we do, but rather who we are. A parent may have one child who always does what the parent wants, and another who is always getting in trouble. Even though disappointed in their actions and decisions, a parent does not love the wayward child any less. Even if there have to be consequences for their actions, the child who does not choose the right path is still loved by their parent. So it is with us and God.
You see, heaven is not a reward for doing the right thing. Heaven is our true home, and being there is the natural consequence of our relationship with God. The only thing that can prevent a person from being able to enter their own home is deciding that they do not want to go there. I cannot tell you the number of times I have heard parents say "No matter what, this will always be your home". Now, since parents realize that they will not live forever, they always want their children to be able to take care of themselves. And competent adult children should be able to take care of themselves. But Jesus was aware of a different reality, a heavenly home where we will live forever. And God, our Father, wants us all to be there for eternity. So it does not matter whether we come to this realization early in life or at the last minute. It is for this that we have been created. And this is not earned by any of our own good deeds. No, the Lord is the one who did the work, and we receive the recompense. His death on the cross earned us the full wage - eternal life in heaven. The only thing that can mess it up is our own refusal to accept what God wants for us.
So, I guess that the lesson for us is that we are all being offered a full day's pay for the work that was performed by the Lord on a Friday long ago. And there is no better pay that anyone can receive.