“Grace isn’t Fair!” – and aren’t you glad? “Fairness” deals with “rewards and punishments,” keeping score. If God dealt with us in “fairness” we would have no hope, no forgiveness, no salvation. “Fair” means we get what we deserve; “Grace” means we get what we don’t deserve. It is “By grace that we are saved through faith.” (Ephesians 2:8)
In our first Scripture reading we read: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9) And again this weekend, we rejoice greatly that God’s generous ways are not our ways (of what we consider “fair”), as Jesus again illustrates in “The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard.”
Jesus tells us: “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning (6 AM) to hire men to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.” A “denarius” was a day’s wage. To make it easy, let’s say, $10 per hour; so the work day was 12 hours = $120 for a day’s work.
Jesus continues: “About the third hour (9 AM) he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace… He told them, “You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went. He went out again about the sixth hour (noon) and the ninth hour (3 PM) and did the same thing. About the eleventh hour (5 PM, with only one hour of work left) He went out and found still others standing around… He said to them, “You also go and work in my vineyard.” (Matthew 20:1-7)
Although it’s not part of Jesus’ parable, I imagine they did some “checking amongst themselves.” Those hired at 9 AM probably asked those who had started at 6 AM – “What’s the boss paying you? He just told us that he’d pay us what is right.” When they found out $120, they easily calculated that they’d be paid $90; the others figured $10 per hour. In this world, we expect “fair labor practices” to “receive equal pay for equal work.”
Jesus says: “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.” The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius ($120!). So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more.” But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble… “These men who were hired last worked only one hour,” they said, “and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.” But he answered one of them, “Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?” So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
But it isn’t fair! We protest! We are so caught up in the “American way” of “work harder – get ahead of your neighbor.”
Jesus is NOT giving instructions on “how to do business in this world.” We know that a “landowner” (in this world) wouldn’t be able to afford this kind of generosity! Jesus says: “For the kingdom of heaven is like…” Take special note that Jesus IS telling us a parable about “The Owner” who can afford this kind of generosity and regularly gives it!
Grace Isn’t Fair (otherwise it wouldn’t be “grace”!). “Grace” is God’s generous gift of eternal life in the Kingdom of heaven. It is ONLY because Jesus willingly suffered and died on the cross, taking the full punishment for our sins and rising again to life that we have the generous gift of eternal life in the Kingdom of heaven! Grace Isn’t Fair but it IS God’s generous gift given to those who in this world appear to be “last” – the “sinners,” the “losers;” as well as to those who appear to be “first” – the “faithful followers” of Jesus; who find great joy in working in God’s vineyard.