Read Matthew 20:1-16
No fair! Not in our eyes anyway. Jesus tells this story about an owner of an estate who hires some people to work in his vineyard. Some of these workers show up at the crack of dawn, some show mid-morning, some at lunch time, another group mid-afternoon and then one more batch show up one hour before quittin’ time. At the end of the day when paychecks are being handed out, folks start noticing each check is exactly the same, regardless of how many hours each person worked. Before long the grumbling begins and one worker approaches the owner:
Worker: Uh, boss?
Worker: The boys and I have been talking and it seems you
made a mistake with the paychecks.
Worker: Yeah, those slackers who showed up an hour before
quittin’ time got the same amount as those of us who broke
our backs the whole day in that scorching heat!
Worker: So…it ain’t fair!!
Owner: What do you mean it ain’t fair? Didn’t I pay you the
wage you agreed to?
Worker: Well…yeah but…
Owner: No but about it! I’ve got every right in the universe to
pay my workers what I want, regardless of the time they clock
*Note: I sometimes imagine the “worker” having a thick New York accent like Paulie in the movie Rocky.
And so it is, Jesus said, that many who are first now will be last then; and those who are last now will be first then. (v. 16)
This is no doubt some crazy calculating huh? What are we to conclude after reading a story like this? Some may call this communism though I don’t think any communistic country in the world would allow the “one hour slackers” to be paid what they were. Some may say this kind of system would create a practice of folks showing up one hour before quittin’ time regularly, thinking they’ll get the same wage. Do you really think an owner like this could possibly be taken advantage of regularly? Don’t think so. There’s a theme in this story that I think can be summed up in a word: Grace.
A good definition for grace would be getting something good that we don’t deserve. Imagine an atmosphere where folks showed up for work knowing the boss just might bless them with something unexpected…or even undeserved. Now translate that same formula in life.
Imagine serving a God who just loves blessing the socks off of folks who don’t always deserve it. A God who gives the same reward (eternal life) to someone putting their trust in Him at eight years old as he does to the person who’s eighty-four before making the same decision. A God who treats the high school drop out the same as the Doctor. A God who extends the same love to both the disabled person and the most talented athlete. Some might call this a “waste” of good resources and they would be correct. Divine grace does have a wastefulness about it. That’s the nature of this Jesus and his Father. They just love to waste their vast resources on those of us who’ve spit in their faces at various times in our lives.
This kind of arithmetic will never seem to add up in our human minds. If we would begin leaving the calculations to God rather than playing the “That’s not fair” game, we would find ourselves being grateful for what we’ve each been given.
*This was an excerpt from our book Forgiveness Formula: Finding Lasting Freedom in Christ
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