“God is fair and just; He corrects the misdirected, Sends them in the right direction.He gives the rejects his hand, And leads them step-by-step. From now on every road you travel Will take you to God. Follow the Covenant signs; Read the charted directions.” – Psalm 25:8-10 (MSG).
We all want to be treated fairly. Most of us figure that if we do our best, God will deal with us fairly. So we tend to get mad when something is unfair—especially if we are on the receiving end. Unfairness seems to pervade life and while God can make things right in this physical life— He doesn’t always choose to do so. In His wisdom, He sometimes allows things to be unfair to get our attention or for our benefit: “I know, O Lord, that your regulations are fair; you disciplined me because I needed it.” (Psalms 119:75).
In Matthew 20: 1-16, Jesus paints a portrait of the Kingdom that looks and sounds so patently unjust, at least on the surface. Jesus tells the story of a farmer, who represents God. Needing to harvest a bumper crop in his vineyard, he goes into the marketplace and hires a crew of laborers. He promises them a fair day’s wage. Later in the day, he realizes he’ll need more help. So he again goes to the marketplace and hires a few more men looking for work. He does this several more times and hires his last crew with just an hour of harvesting remaining. At the end of the day, each worker is given the same pay, regardless of how long they worked.
If we were one of the people who started in the morning, we would jump up and complain that those who worked the hardest and longest should be rewarded more. It just makes sense, unless we look at this story through the lens of grace. When we do that we see the difference between what we view as fair and how God views what is fair.
Were the workers justified in questioning his generosity? We may say yes, but we would be wrong. Each person was paid their promised wage. This parable illustrates the broad theme of Scripture: God’s grace. Just like the idle workers in the marketplace, we were all in a position of need. They were looking for a job, but we are looking for mercy.
The master of the vineyard wasn’t concerned with how long the workers were unemployed—He only knew they needed a job. Similarly, God doesn’t see the amount of sin we carry. In His eyes, we are all sinners in need of salvation. We are all in need of grace.
We must realize that Christianity is not about getting what we want out of a cosmic, vending-machine God. It’s about worshiping a God who has given us far more grace than we deserve.
- Jesus ended the parable of the vineyard workers with the phrase, “So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.” How is this idea illustrated in this story?
- What is your reaction to the story? Are you indifferent? Angry? Why?
- What can we learn from this parable that we can apply in our daily lives?