If God Were Fair Back to Index

If God Were Fair
September 21, 2008

Wesley United Methodist Church

MATTHEW 20:1-16

If God were fair, where would you be? In Jesus’ parable, a grower hired grape pickers all day long, at 6AM, 9AM, 12 noon, 3PM, and 5 PM. When they finished their work at 6PM, and came in for their pay, they discovered to their amazement that they all were paid the same. Even those hired at 5PM were paid the same as those who began working at 6AM. Some worked for 12 hours and, guess what! They didn’t think it was fair. They complained, “These last have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.”

How many of you think it was not fair of the grower to pay all the workers the same wage? I don’t think it was fair either. However, God’s grace is not fair. That’s why it’s called grace. But, deep down many of us prefer fairness to grace. Especially if we are the workers who slaved in the hot sun picking grapes for 12 hours, we prefer fairness to grace. 

But, turn it around. If you have ever stood in a labor line or hung outside Home Depot, hoping, praying for a contractor or a homeowner to give you a job, worrying about where you were going to get money to feed your family, pay the rent, buy them clothes; if you were among those who came from Oklahoma in the 1930s to escape the drought, and would do any kind of work, migrating from farm to farm, looking, asking, praying, hoping for something; if you were one of those who slip across the border trying to scrape a few dollars together to send back home to your family in Mexico to buy food, medicine, any kind of hope; then, I suspect, you prefer grace to fairness. After you hung around the labor hall all day long hoping against hope, and unbelievably were hired at 5:00 to pick grapes, how would you have felt if a gracious, generous grower paid you a full days wage! What rejoicing, gratitude and tears of joy you would have shed! It depends where you are coming from whether you prefer fairness to grace, or grace to fairness.

Those who worked 12 hours preferred fairness to grace, but they missed out on the joy. They were unable to rejoice and celebrate the good fortune of those who had worked one hour and got paid for all day. After all, they were paid what they had been promised; they had no cause to gripe. Yet, they were unable to rejoice and celebrate the generosity of the grower. They complained, sulked, dressed in their garments of righteousness of what they considered to be fair.

The point of Jesus’ parable is that if those who consider themselves righteous look at their own hearts, they will see they are not so perfect after all, and can be thankful that God doesn’t judge by ledgers but by grace. A mother who had raised a large number of children successfully as a single mother was asked how she did it. Did she love them equally and treat them equally? The wise mother replied, “I loved all of them, loved them greatly, but I never wanted to love them equally. I loved the one that was down until he got up. I loved the one who was weak until she was strong. I loved the one that was hurt until he was healed. I loved the one who was lost until she was found.” That’s grace, not loving equally, not loving fairly, but loving extravagantly when they need it.

What happens when we demand that everyone be treated fairly, that they get what they deserve, is that we forget how grace has operated in our lives. Where would you be if you only got what you deserved, got what was fair? What about the people who loved you more than you deserved? What about the teacher who went out of the way for you? What about the second chances you were given when you goofed? What about your first employer who took a chance on you, who hired you without references or previous experience? What about the opportunity you were given because you knew someone who knew someone? How about those raised in poverty who try to find jobs, but they don't know someone who knows someone? What about the love of Christ who treats you not on the basis of what you deserve, but generously, even extravagantly? 

Jesus told this parable as an example of the kingdom of heaven. When it comes to heaven, thank God, entrance is not determined by accountants keeping track of what is fair, or none of us would make it. Entrance into God’s kingdom is not based on fairness, or what we deserve, or what we have earned, because if it were, none of us would make it. As Paul concluded, Romans 3.10, “No one is righteous, no not even one.” Thank God, entrance into God’s kingdom is based on grace, not fairness. God quit keeping score long ago.

The way to enter heaven, the way to get saved, is to let go of our own righteousness. Don't trust in your righteousness, but trust in God's grace. Quit worrying about what is fair and let God be as reckless and indiscreet as God wants. Let God pay the workers whatever God’s generosity lavishes.

Praise God! Open your hearts to God’s grace, receive the gift of salvation, and be thankful. Where would you be if God were fair?

© 2008 Douglas I. Norris