The audio was capturing at our Praise and Worship service on September 21, 2014.
For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o'clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.' So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o'clock, he did the same. And about five o'clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, 'Why are you standing here idle all day?' They said to him, 'Because no one has hired us.' He said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard.' When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, 'Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.' When those hired about five o'clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 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 the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?' So the last will be first, and the first will be last."
The Beauty of Grace is that it Makes Life not Fair
I can vividly remember a particular Christmas morning when I was about eight or ten. My brother Josh and I had just finished opening presents. Our parents were gathering up the discarded wrapping paper. Pancakes and bacon were next on the morning’s agenda. There was a pause at the end of the wrapping paper gathering and my mom looked over at me and asked what was wrong. I must have had a look on my face that did not match the joy of Christmas morning. I know I felt that way.
At that moment I looked over at my brother, and with the bluntness of a child I said, “He got more than me.” I was stung over the difference in numbers. It just was not fair. The value of the gifts, the meaning behind them, and the joy of the morning were no match for the ago old feeling of “it’s not fair.” I had been a good boy. Did I not deserve an equal share?
As I grew older I learned that the value of gifts is not often - if ever - in quantity, but in quality. It’s the meaning behind the gift that holds the value. I learned that my parents worked really hard to provide a good life for me and my brother. They worked hard to keep things fair between us. I know these things now. But every once in a while, perhaps more often than I’d like to admit, the age-old feeling of “it’s not fair” creeps into my mind.
This feeling of “it’s not fair” has been around a long time. It meets us in the lines of our story from Matthew. This time were find ourselves in the payment line at the end of a work day. Perhaps you, like me, fancy yourself as one of the all day workers. The ones selected early in the morning to hire out for a day picking grapes. The payment had been agreed upon, a denarius, the usual daily wage. We stand in line as the sunsets, waiting for our payments for the day’s work. The word reaches the back of the line that those who had only worked an hour were getting the same pay as those who had worked all day.
Our eyes light up when we hear that the ones who had only worked for an hour had received the full day’s wages. The agreed upon payment is not long forgotten. We now expect to be paid more for our full day’s work. And we are suddenly disappointed when we receive the originally agreed upon wage of a denarius. Immediately we are upset. We - the first shift workers, the ones who had been busting our chops since daybreak - are upset when we only receive a denarius. It’s just not fair. We had worked longer hours. We had been here since sun-up. We wanted more pay. And what’s so wrong with that?
The human answer is nothing. Wouldn’t we all feel the same way? Wouldn’t we feel disparity at being paid at an equal rate to someone who worked less hours. When I worked at Starbucks, we had a tip jar by the cash register and everyone’s tips went into the same bucket. Each of us got an equal share of the tips based on the hours we worked (normally a $1.50 a person). That means that I got the same tip rate for working my tail off that Joe did for doing half the work. I was upset the first time I got my share of the tips, I felt it was pennies on the dollar to the effort I had put into serving the customer and keeping them happy. It just wasn’t fair.
But is it ever really fair? Not really. We live in the tension that life is really never fair. We try to make it equal, we struggle to keep things even, but we cannot. The feelings of envy, jealousy, and greed continue to haunt our footsteps. We have become creatures of entitlement, always wanting something bigger and better.
Or maybe we just want enough. Maybe we just want to keep food on the table, give our kids a fighting chance, go to bed at night without wondering what upsets tomorrow will bring. But the money always seems to run out, the bills stack up higher, the job search never goes anywhere, and we are left wondering why. The deep hurt of “it’s not fair” is very real to us every day.
It’s these feelings of “it’s just not fair” that Jesus speaks to in our Gospel today. The landowner chooses to give everyone a fair daily wage, regardless of the hours they worked. He chooses to give all of the laborers enough. Everyone gets to go home and put food on the table. Everyone gets to have a fighting chance to make ends meet for one more day. The landowner knows that a denarius isn’t all that much. But the landowner also knows that the denarius is enough.
The landowner knows that a denarius isn’t all that much. But the landowner also knows that the denarius is enough.
Grace is God’s radical goodness. Grace is meeting the needs of all people, especially the least, making sure everyone has enough. Making sure everyone has a place at the table. Grace is meeting people where they are and leaning into their need in a way that shows them the love of God.
Grace is meeting people where they are and leaning into their need in a way that shows them the love of God.
Today’s parable speaks to the truth that grace just isn’t fair. It isn’t fair by our world’s standards that those who worked longer got the same pay as those who had only been there an hour. But God says to us through Jesus Christ that even the least will have enough in the kingdom of heaven. God says through the resurrection that Jesus Christ is enough, that faith is enough, that the radical goodness of God is enough for all people.
So if we have enough in Jesus Christ - if Jesus Christ is enough for all of us - then we are done with our calculating. Sure we can chose to grumble like the disgruntled worker, but we can also choose to be inspired by the love of God that gives freely to all. We can choose to live in response to God’s radical goodness by living with radical goodness ourselves. And we’re already doing it.
So if we have enough in Jesus Christ - if Jesus Christ is enough for all of us - then we are done with our calculating.
Grace just isn't fair. The radical goodness of God is not fair by the standards of the world. And thank God that it’s not. In God, we all have enough. We all have access to God’s mercy, forgiveness, and love. We are called to be witnesses to this radical goodness.