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Parable of the Unfair God

Today's guest post comes from Aaron McCarter, pastor of the Vineyard in Maryville, TN. Aaron has been my pal for a number of years. He has an easy-going style: you find yourself at ease immediately. He's very likable. All of these qualities merely draw you in until you realize you're in the presence of a disciple of the King--the kind of person who will not settle for anything less than God's best in your life, or his. He and his wife, Sharon have two kids. He blogs here, tweets here, and follows Jesus pretty much everywhere. 

“For the Kingdom of Heaven is like a householder 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 steward, ‘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 the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius.  And on receiving it they grumbled at the householder, 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 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 will be last. (Matthew 20:1-16)

The Parable of the Vineyard runs against the grain of the embedded American psyche, which shouts aloud: “Those who work the hardest, and the longest, earn the greatest reward.” It spits in the face of American capitalism: “What do you mean, ‘Equal pay for all?’ Commies!” 

After the owner of the Vineyard pays those workers who had been there all day they glare at him with their sunburned faces, straighten their sore backs so that they could look at him dead in the eye and--like all good Americans--they protest! “You have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat!”

He reminds them that they were paid according to their agreement, and to the others he was simply being generous. “Do you begrudge my generosity?” You bet they do!

The way the men respond to what they are given has everything to do with what they believe they deserve.Those who are met at the back of the line are ecstatic.; those who waited at the front of the line are furious. 

This parable tells us a lot about the way we view ourselves...about where we see ourselves in the line. If we saw ourselves as the late-coming wretch who gets more than he ever earned, then this parable wouldn’t leave us with such a bad taste in our mouths. The story sounds a lot different from the end of the line than it does from the front.  

How often do you see yourself as the one who got the short end of the stick?  As the one who came early and stayed late just for good measure, but still get the same pay as the slouch who didn’t even bother to get out of bed until after lunch?  

But it’s entirely possible we are mistaken about where we are in line. In fact, there are all kinds of people ahead of us, people who are far more deserving of God’s love than we’ll ever be. Maybe that’s the case, and maybe it isn’t. But suppose for a moment that it’s you stuck in the back of the line, craning your neck to get just a view of how far line extends ahead of you. 

This parable reminds us that life just isn’t fair. And we cringe because it points to the notion that God isn’t fair either. Life isn’t fair, which makes it all the more important that God is. It's especially important in an unjust world that God should be the one authority who plays by the rules—

  • who sees to it that people get what they deserve
  • who keeps track of how long and how hard we've worked
  • who sees to it that people don’t cut line, and everyone gets exactly what they earned. 

Life may not be fair, but we think God certainly should be.

But God isn’t fair. For some reason beyond our comprehension, he loves us indiscriminately. For reasons we can’t understand He reverses the order of the line.  

If God’s not fair, then there’s a chance that we will get paid more than we are worth; we will be given more than we have earned; we won’t be judged based on our own merit. If God isn’t fair it means he orchestrated the greatest injustice in the history of the world by sending his son to be killed by the very people he had come to save.

God isn’t fair: he’s generous. And if we ever begrudge that generosity we likely have forgotten what a privilege it is to labor in the vineyard, what an honor it is to work on behalf of the vineyard keeper, and there’s are real chance that we’ve forgotten, were it not for God’s grace, where we stand in line.

Reader Comments (2)

w.o.w.

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterA

This is brilliantly grace-filled! Thank you for sharing our Father's perfectly loving heart. It sets this anxious mind at ease and causes my arms to fly up uncontrollably as I yell "YES!" and "THANK YOU!"
You just got yourself another blog follower. ;)

April 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Tiu

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