My first lesson in the unfairness of life came when my younger brother was old enough to get into trouble and get disciplined. My parents changed their disciplinary style and I felt that he got away with everything that I had gotten in trouble for. We each have that moment in which we discover that fairness is an ideal that rarely exists in reality and one of my favorite Calvin and Hobbes cartoons ends with Hobbes telling Calvin that life wasn’t fair. Calvin’s response was that he knew, he just wanted the unfairness to tilt in his favor. Unfortunately, if you are the least bit idealistic, this unfairness is infuriating and unexpected and we wonder why some people just don’t get our perspective on things. When Jesus was confronted by the rich young ruler, the disciples asked how any could be saved if it was so hard for the rich to enter the kingdom. Often we see unfairness happen only in ways that appear to be negative, or are positive for someone else, but God offers an unfairness that is a blessing to all. God has chosen to give us what we don’t deserve. He has canceled out the wages of sin and gifted us with life, and this can be an offensive generosity.
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. 3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went. “He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ 7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’ 8 “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.’ 9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These 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.’ 13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Matthew 20:1-16
- God’s priority is the harvest, he calls people for that purpose.
- God keeps going out to find more laborers. Why?
- The laborers’ priority was the pay. They worked hard and got the harvest in because they wanted their reward.
- The laborers engaged in comparing their rewards. I have met very few working people who thought they were getting a fair wage compared to others.
- We also can lose sight of the goal of God’s work in the world and focus on what is in it for us.
- When we do that we start to see fear and bitterness creep in. CS Lewis explored this theme in his book The Great Divorce. (Read excerpts from chapter 4.)
- When we refocus on the goal of gathering in the harvest we interact in much healthier ways.
- We want what we think we are owed for our service, but God is kind enough to not give us what we deserve.
- Just as the landowner did not take away the pay to the grumblers, but gently corrected their lack of compassion, so does God remind us that his generosity is his to bestow and we need to be grateful recipients.
- When we focus on God’s goal the reward becomes the beauty of seeing God’s generous mercy at work in the world bringing about a full harvest. We don’t get to decide what the wages of others are, and for that we can be grateful since it is the mercy of God that measures out our payment.