It’s just not fair!!!!
That’s what we want to scream out as we watch this story unfold. In the Kingdom of God, it doesn’t seem to matter if you’re an early adopter working all day long or the last one in the field…you get the same reward.
It doesn’t matter if you work your hands raw, or just drop a few grapes in the basket at the end of the day. The wages are still the same.
And, it doesn’t do you a lick of good to complain about it, or to point out to the landowner, to God, the unfairness of it all, he’s just going to go ahead and do what he wants to do anyway.
It is maddening!
In fact, the landowner in this parable seems to invite the griping. He sets up the pay line so that the folks who broke their backs all day long get to see that the slacker late-comers get paid the same as they do. He seems to invite the complaints, the belly-aches, and the foot stomping!
What is the point of that?
This is a parable of the Kingdom.
The whole point here is to help us see that the way things work in this world is not the way things work in the Kingdom that God is bringing in upon us. And that, my friends, is meant to annoy us.
Because we are so in bondage to this world and to the way it works!
We are so ingrained in the concept that things ought to be fair, and we so want to hold that firm belief that you get what you pay for, and that you get what you deserve.
Isn’t that the truth?
Much as we want to believe in the concept of grace, when push comes to shove, we really don’t want to believe in actual grace in all things.
We want to believe in grace for us, but for that person over there, for that no-good low -life, who never worked a day in his life .. that bum….well, he should get a little straightening up done before he is eligible for the grace of God!
We want to believe in grace when it comes to us undeserved, when we hold our hands out thankfully to receive it. But we tend to hold out a little bit for others, withhold that free gift until they can “appreciate it” better.
Sometimes we do that intentionally. We form opinions about the worthiness of people to receive something based upon their looks, or upon their social status, or upon their history with us. “They deserve some consideration, they’ve been nice….”
“Cut him, cut her, a break; I know them…..”
And there it is; that predisposition that we have to want to put ourselves in the place of God. That desire that goes all the way back to the fall in the garden at the time of creation where we thought it would be good to take a bite out of eternity and become as God ourselves, discerning good and evil… so that we could decide such things and take some of the pressure off of the almighty.
“I’ve got this one God, I’ll decide who should get what….”
Sometimes we hold back that desire for God’s Grace to permeate this world unintentionally. We do that by clinging to old forms of understandings, by not being open to seeing the world the way that God sees this world, or by choosing the comfortable status quo over the challenging possibility of a God who is doing a “new thing.”
“This can’t be the way God wants it!” We say, and find ourselves right back in the garden tugging at the fruit again.
Either way, we find ourselves pulled up short when God goes ahead and does something that seems completely and utterly outside of our expectations.
Like people lined up to get paid, we cannot help but look down the line at what someone else has, or is getting, and jump into comparison mode.
God places in our hands all that we’ve been promised, but immediately our minds still want to jump to, “we have to be getting more then….” And that is precisely the moment at which God’s Grace catches us off guard, and even becomes offensive. We see grace extended to the place where we would not expect it, or have it go, and we find ourselves in unison exclaiming “It’s just not fair!”
The punch line to the parable is God’s observation to our objection: “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?”
Actually the translation of “are you envious because I am generous?” is a bit difficult here. What is being translated is an idiom, a phrase that has metaphorical meaning which is always a little tricky.
We all know that “pulling a person’s leg” has nothing to do with someone physically grabbing a lower extremity. It is an idiom, it means you are telling someone an untruth in a good natured way.
We know a bunch of idioms and we use them every day. “The devil is in the detail” we say. Or, “It’s not rocket science”… neither of which have anything to do with demons or rockets but have to do with implementation of a project, discovering or overcoming difficulties.
So the literal wording in Greek for this idiom is, “Is your eye evil because I am good?”
It has nothing to do with eyes, but it has everything to do with perception. How you perceive the action of the land owner, of God? What does the action of God do to you?
It is “the usual daily wage” that becomes the problem when you come right down to it. Isn’t God allowed to be generous with what is his? What should a person get for a “daily usual wage?”
The apostle Paul in Romans 6:23 reminded us what the “usual daily wage” should be for us. Paul writes, “for the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.”
If we, any of us got what was “fair” in this world for our thoughts, actions, and desires… we would not be so eager to receive the wages. It’s not (after all) really the wages that we want, it is the free gift!
So when you think about that and begin to look at this parable again through the lens of Christ, the great giver of the free gift, you see something peculiar start to take shape.
You begin to pick up all the “gifts” there are in this parable that is supposedly about workers and wages.
It is a gift that there is a vineyard at all. A gift that a creator God put in place the pieces of this world that we carve out and call our own, but that are clearly a gift of the creator God. A creator God who so delighted in creation that he called forth produce and told us all to be fruitful, and to have dominion, and to tend his garden.
It is a gift that there is a place for landowner, and for worker.
It is a gift that God calls workers, at every hour, early, late and in between.
God wouldn’t have to do that.
God could leave us to “our regular wages.”
God could leave us to “stand around on our own.”
God could say, “you should have gotten up earlier, been around when I was here the first time, paid more attention to the signs and seasons and the time of harvest so you would be ready when I called.”
But, God doesn’t do that.
Instead, according to this parable, God goes out again and again, calling and inviting and seeking out, and bringing in…all he can. That is a gift.
And finally, when the grumbling starts, when the workers begin to see what each is getting, God doesn’t take back or withhold. God doesn’t even really scold, but simply points out, “friend I am doing you no wrong…. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?
That too, is a gift; a gift of a gracious response to a grumbling and disgruntled people. That phrase, that tone, does not sound like a vindictive God who strikes down or punishes when we disobey.
That sounds more like something my grandmother would say to us when the plate of cookies was set out and our grubby little hands grabbed for the biggest ones, and she would reach in and start handing them out one by one to whomever she chose. “Am I not allowed ot do what I choose with what belongs to me? And here you are, I give it to you freely.”
It is just, and not fair. Just that those who look to God for all good gifts find that God is ready to supply. Just that a person can earn at any time enough to have food on the table, security in the home, and provision for family.
It is just, even and especially when it’s not fair!
If you try to capture God into your scheme of thinking, into your politics, your sense of how things ought to go in this world, your own sense of fairness… God just will not play along with that. Things unravel quickly for you, for God is not so much interested in a sense of fairness based on your perception on how things ought to be.
No, God is intensely interested in this world, and setting the world right with the gift of the Kingdom so that it becomes what God believes it ought to be.
This is why God sent his own Son to break the bondage that we feel and experience of how the world currently works.
It is justice, and not fairness, that God is after. It is the ability for all to make their way in this world, to be invited into the landowner’s vineyard to participate, and to find a place where they have value and worth, and the reward that God has in mind for all.