The Frustrating Side of Grace
In the life span of a sermon, Tuesday is the early years…I mean, really early. It’s like a toddler who is still learning how to put one foot in front of another…and sometimes goes barreling across the room only to face plant after five steps. This is my ‘read commentaries’ day, my stew in it day…my place the text in a marinade day. And so writing about a text on Tuesday—putting thoughts in word form—is a bit of a ‘flash marinade’ if you will. And I can’t help but thinking that these thoughts are not highly seasoned.
In this second week of Lent, we have landed at the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard…an enormously frustrating text. A landowner essentially pays all of the workers the same rate…no matter how long they worked. I can understand the frustration of those who had been working all day seeing the latecomers get exactly the same pay.
This parable reminds me of comments I’ve heard about the criminal on the cross next to Jesus. In his last few breaths, he cried out “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And Jesus answered him, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” While we are glad to hear that he is saved, we can’t help but feel a sense of indignation…this man lived however he wanted his whole life…and at the last minute, he was saved by Jesus!
These two texts strike at a human-made gospel near and dear to our hearts: the gospel of fairness. And if these passages are anything…they are NOT FAIR. And whenever we try to marry Jesus and fairness…it never works.
This is why as much as we love to talk about beauty and majesty of God’s grace, there is a side to it that we don’t often attend to: the frustrating side of grace. The side that ignores what is fair. We want acknowledgement for our hard work of following God…we want to move a little farther ahead of the pack…we want to do know that jewel in our crown will be there for us…because we’ve earned it!
But this, my friends, is the toddler stage. It’s not the gospel. For one thing, life in Christ is a gift not a burden. Those who get to spend all day in the bounty of the vineyard, even laboring there, have it better than those who sit around elsewhere. Besides, if we really start playing the fairness game, and get what we deserve…that doesn’t look good for us either.
Grace is frustrating because it is not fair. It is not measurable. It is not doled out in different quantities. It’s grace: overflowing, abundant, and immeasurable. And while we live in a world that strives for fairness…good things like pay equity and living wages, this passage is not about that. It’s about grace. And no matter how long we have been in the vineyard, grace is grace and we all receive it.
Grace is a gift. And at the end of the day, it is handed to all us in abundant measure. Because God is not fair…God is grace, mercy, and love. Thanks be to God.
Grace and Peace,
The Laborers in the Vineyard
20 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage,[a] he sent them into his vineyard. 3 When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4 and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5 When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6 And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9 When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage.[b] 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage.[c] 11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 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.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?[d] 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’[e] 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”[f]