How many times have you heard the statement “life isn’t fair?” You may have said it, heard it or felt it. Why do we say this? How is this the correct response to the despair we feel when things don’t go our way? After all, we learn at a young age that playing fair is the preferred option. We play fair in board games, sports, and school activities. It’s the right thing to do. No one ever told me to cheat or take advantage of others while I was playing. Yet, if the tide turns to our advantage, even though that could also be “unfair” — we are grateful. When I am given extra french fries by mistake, I am excited to eat them. If I don’t get a full order, I complain. But aren’t both of these situations technically unfair? Let’s explore a message Jesus taught known as the parable of the vineyard workers. This passage of scripture is found in Matthew 20:1-16 and will help us understand the incredible difference between this earthly kingdom and God’s kingdom.
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.”
So much just happened here. But let’s not miss the best part: “For the kingdom of heaven is like…” Jesus opens this teaching with a peek into what Heaven looks like. Have you wondered about the day you get to walk into Heaven? Will it be all that you’ve imagined it to be? Do you have a hard time thinking about someone being there who may have hurt you? Been unfair to you? Didn’t live life for God as well as you? God doesn’t base our eternity on merit. That is the way we do it here on earth though, isn’t it? You work for what you get. You earn it. If you don’t work hard enough you don’t get much in return.
God’s Kingdom works differently. His grace abounds. His grace overflows. His grace is for all people, all ages, all races, all who call upon the name of Jesus as their Savior. No work required, just trust and faith. Sound crazy? Maybe. But just as the vineyard owner made the decision to pay all the workers who toiled that day the same wage, God bestows the same gift to all those who come to trust in Jesus. There are no time constraints. Whether you find Jesus when you are 10 years old or 80 years old — even in the eleventh hour — your reward is eternal life. Do you rejoice in this or find it unjust? After all, how can someone who spends his or her life serving God receive the same reward as someone who only followed God for a moment?
Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents. (Luke 15:10)
God is gracious and His word is true. It isn’t our job to decide who deserves God’s grace. We don’t need to compare our trials or our blessings. There will be both in our lives, but no-one’s challenges or successes are exactly the same. Each vineyard worker agreed to be paid what was fair. Instead of rejoicing in the generosity of the owner, those who worked longer grumbled. Even though they were paid exactly what they agreed to, it was not fair in their minds. Those workers failed to see the owner’s graciousness.
As I realize how undeniably merciful God is with me, I now look at this statement differently. Life isn’t fair — thankfully. I don’t want what I deserve.
He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103: 10-12)
Holding Fast to Hope,