Reading this week in Matthew the parable Jesus told of workers and their pay. He tells of the owner of a vineyard who goes out to find workers to harvest his crops. Apparently, there were men who had no permanent job and would gather in town hoping for someone to give them work for the day.
Arriving early in the morning the owner offers the group of men gathered there a day’s wages if they would work in his vineyard. The amount of wages being agreed on, he took the men to his fields to work. As the day went on, he decided he needed more workers to get the job done so he returned to the town square and found more men looking for work. With this group no set wages were agreed on; the owner simply said he would pay them whatever was right. He continued to go back to the town square throughout the day and hired more workers each time with the understanding he would pay whatever was right.
At the end of the day when time came for the workers to be paid, he told his manager to pay those who had been the last to be hired first. Was this fair? Imagine you were one of those who had worked throughout the entire day having to stand in line and wait while those who only worked one or two hours received their wages first.
The men who were paid first received a full day’s wage. Seeing that, those who had labored all day thought they would be getting more and were probably excited about the prospect of making more than a day’s wage.
However, when they came to be paid, they received the same wage as those who had only worked a few hours. They were not happy campers.
Was this fair?
When the workers complained to the vineyard owner, he reminded them that they had agreed to work all day for a day’s wages. That was fair. He had kept his word. They were given exactly what he had promised and what they had agreed to.
In our culture this would be a source of lawsuits and demonstrations. How does that line up with “equal pay for equal work.”
Wondering what Jesus really meant by this parable, I think of the meaning of God’s grace.
The workers had not been taken advantage of. They received exactly what they had agreed to and what was the going rate for a day’s labor. This story shows the owner’s generosity, his mercy, his grace to all.
I believe it is a good reminder to us that we are not saved by what we do, but by the mercy and grace of God. Sometimes we may think “I’m a good Christian. I have never cheated on my husband. I have been a loving mother. I give generous to the church and to those in need. But I am slow to recognize how sometimes I have acted selfishly, been unkind or critical to others, turned a blind eye to someone in need.
And so, we really want God to be fair? To give us what we deserve? Have we lived a perfect life with no need of mercy or grace? Thank God that he is not fair.
He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. Psalm 103:10
Second thought – the workers who came late to the field, did they not have a family that needed to eat also? How was it wrong to give them a wage that allowed their families to also have their needs met?
Some of us may make great sacrifices for the work of God. Then like the thief on the cross with Jesus, others slip into the kingdom on their deathbed without having done anything for God’s kingdom.
Is this fair?
This scandal of grace is a sign of the unbelievable goodness of God. It’s possible that someone could look at a lifetime of service and feel, like the early laborers, that they were cheated. But this is the wrong way to look at faithfulness.
When we truly recognize the lavish generosity of God’s mercy, it’s a game changer. We stop focusing on what’s “fair,” and begin to humbly appreciate God’s unbelievable benevolence. Hopefully, we recognize what the early laborers missed: It’s a privilege to serve a God who is so kind and unselfish.
The Jesus project