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A View from the Altar / Grace isn’t fair. It’s way better than that.
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Grace isn’t fair. It’s way better than that.

Matthew 20:1-16

The situation here is that work needs doing.  According to the custom of the day, the owner of the vineyard goes to the local labor pool, hires whomever is standing there with the agreement that the pay will be a “penny” for a day’s work.  The “penny” in your KJV is the well-known denarius, which was the customary wage for a laboring man for a day.

Still needing more workers, the owner goes back to the labor pool area repeatedly, always finding people there wanting work.  The workers agree to go, and laborers are filing into the field right up until quitting time.  At the end of the day, the owner pays them all one denarius.  The late comers are thrilled.  The ones who worked all day, not so thrilled.  Their complaint is that the owner has made all the workers equal.

When I taught this parable to a children’s Sunday School class, I proposed to give away some money in the class.  I told them I’d give a dollar to Ashley, fifty cents to Myra, and a nickel to Jonathan.  At this, Jonathan was highly displeased.  “Not fair!” he said.  Why not?  “Because they got more.”  I replied, “But nobody was cheated.  It was all a gift.  What right do you have to complain if the money was mine and I gave it away as I pleased?”  Jonathan replied, “Still not fair.”  He was getting mad, and I wasn’t getting through, so we had to move on.

The root problem in both situations is the same.  Jealousy is displeased with grace because grace takes power over a situation and makes some that are last first, and others that were first last.  In the case of the workers in the vineyard, grace was kindly disposed to be more generous toward some while others had to earn the whole day’s wage.  In the case of my Sunday School class, I proposed to give a gift to all, though more to some than others.  In both cases, however, grace was in control of who came out seemingly ahead.  And the me-first genes in human nature really hate that.  Sinners would sooner see no grace at all than to see it divided 60/40 with my neighbor in the lead.  The owner’s question is apropos: “Is your eye evil because I am good?”

Man’s self-destructive insistence on honoring his sense of jealousy explains much in human history, from the murder of Abel to the advent of Marxism.  We are all freighted with God’s blessings, as David said in Psalm 40:5, more than could be numbered.  Let us not grow angry toward God because a neighbor’s great blessing turns out a mite taller than our own great blessing.

One Comment

  1. Ben

    I had forgotten that particular episode until I read it just now!

    Posted on 07-Dec-08 at 19:53 pm | Permalink

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