In an earlier post about the kingdom of God, I referenced many of the stories where Jesus described that kingdom. I skipped the one below, however, because it brings out a point that deserves more specific attention. Read the story and see what you think.
For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. When he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius [a typical day’s wages] for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the market place; and to those he said, “You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.” And so they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did the same thing. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why have you been standing here idle all day long?” They said to him, “Because no one hired us.” He said to them, “You go into the vineyard too.”
When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, “Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last group to the first.” When those hired about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius. When those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, saying, “These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.” But he answered and said to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?” So the last shall be first, and the first last.
I wonder if your reaction was like mine: “Hey, the workers were right. That isn’t fair! Those who worked less should get paid less!” After that knee-jerk reaction, though, I checked again and decided that the landowner was right. He didn’t cheat the earlier workers; he paid them exactly as he promised. He did have the right to be as generous as he wished with his own money for the later workers.
Then I recognized something in myself: I was automatically putting myself in the position of the early workers, thinking that I would deserve full pay (or more). If I were to consider myself one of the latecomers instead, I would be very happy with the owner. I would greatly appreciate his lack of “fairness”!
Given that Jesus is talking about the kingdom of God, I shudder to think how arrogant I was being! I was acting like I have the right to expect to be in the kingdom, as if I’ve earned my way there. Instead, I’m welcomed there because of God’s “unfairness”, in other words: by His grace.
Grace, Justice, and Mercy
The Greek word for “grace” is charis, which means blessing, favor, or kindness. One of my favorite definitions is “un-merited favor”. It means that I am getting something good, that I did not earn, don’t deserve, and have no right to expect.
God is righteous and just, however. He can be generous as He wants, but He cannot let wrong go un-punished and still be true to His character. Even if He chooses to give me a free gift, He can’t just skip the consequences that I deserve for constantly rebelling against His authority. So how does He reconcile the two?
He does so by transferring the penalty for my rebellion to someone else, to Jesus. Jesus took my “bad”, so that I can have His “good” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Not only does God show grace, giving me good that I don’t deserve; He also shows mercy, NOT giving me the bad that I do deserve 1.
This is the essence of the Gospel, indeed of the entire Bible. God chose Abraham “just because” and promised to make him into a great nation that would be a blessing to the whole world (Genesis 12:2). God’s Son then became a human man named Jesus, born into that nation for the purpose of rescuing me “just because” (Romans 3:23-24, Ephesians 2:8). He accepts me into His kingdom, as His child, “just because” (John 1:12, John 3:16).
That’s not the least bit fair…but I certainly am glad for it!
I’ll leave you with a couple of songs that celebrate this Gospel.
- The first is a new song written by the Nelons in 2020 that especially suits this topic. Here is their recording of “Grace Ain’t Fair” 2.
- The other is an old song; I’ll bet you can’t guess which one!
Enjoy, and may “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.” (2 Corinthians 13:14).
Footnotes and Scripture References
- There’s a saying that Jesus “lived the life I should have lived, and died the death I should have died”. I wish I knew the source so that I could give them proper credit.
- This song helped to inspire this post. It so matches Jesus’ story, and my reaction to it.